Associate Professor of African History

John Thabiti Willis holds a Ph.D. in History from Emory University, USA. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies (2008-2010). He has been working as an associate professor of African history and director of Africana Studies at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, U.S.A.

He is a scholar of the social and cultural history of Africa in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds. His Ph.D. thesis and first book focused on the history and politics of masquerade performances and the institutions that organized them among the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria from precolonial to modern times.

His 2018 book, Masquerading Politics: Kinship, Gender, and Ethnicity in a Yoruba Town, Otta, 1774-1928, demonstrates how institutions that used ritual masquerade both reflected and shaped changing political and economic relations during the rise and fall of West African empires, Atlantic slavery, the spread of Islam, and the establishment of Christian missions and British colonialism.  It has earned recognition as a finalist for the 2019 Best Book Prize (formerly known as the Herskovits award) by the African Studies Association and recently won the 2020 Yoruba Studies Book Prize, which honors the best books on Yoruba people and their culture over a three-year period.

Research

For the last decade, he has been exploring the contributions of Africa to the history and heritage of pearling in the Gulf. His work draws heavily on museum exhibits, manumission records, and heritage performances. Thabiti’s new project uses oral histories collected through ethnography and geographic information system methodologies to analyze the biographies of people who once worked in pearling.

Publications

  • "Beyond “Man” vs. Nature: Pearling and the Construction of Gender, Generation, and Heritage in Bahrain." Hawwa 19, no. 1 (2021): 102-127.
  • “‘The performance of servitude’: gendered and racialized representations of citizenship at the Bahrain National Museum.” In The Art of Minorities: Cultural Representation in Museums of the Middle East and North Africa, pp. 56-71. Edinburg University Press, 2020.
  • "Trickster Theatre: The Poetics of Freedom in Urban Africa by Jesse Weaver Shipley, and: Yorùbá Performance, Theatre and Politics: Staging Resistance by Glenn Odom." TDR: The Drama Review 63, no. 1 (2019): 175-178.
  • Masquerading Politics: kinship, gender, and ethnicity in a Yoruba town. Indiana University Press, 2018.
  • "Bridging the Archival-Ethnographic Divide: Gender, Kinship, and Seniority in the Study of Yoruba Masquerade." History in Africa 44 (2017): 63-100.
  • "A visible silence: Africans in the history of pearl diving in Dubai, UAE." In Museums in Arabia, pp. 54-70. Routledge, 2016.
  • "Negotiating gender, power, and spaces in masquerade performances in Nigeria." Gender, Place & Culture 21, no. 3, 2014.