2017 LSA DISTINGUISHED SCHOLAR AWARD: KRISTIN MANN (PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, EMORY UNIVERSITY)
Nomination Submitted By
Ball State University
PhD from Emory University, 2016 completed under the supervision of Kristin Mann
Over the course of a career that has spanned more than four decades, Dr. Kristin Mann has consistently produced methodologically rigorous and theoretically innovative scholarship on Lagos. Her work speaks beyond specialists of the city because she approaches Lagos as more than a “case study” or perhaps more accurately, her approach to the city as a research site is the model that all case studies should aspire to. She emphasizes the unique elements that developed over the course of Lagos’s history from a young and regionally insignificant kingdom in the late eighteenth century to an internationally important port – the so-called Liverpool of West Africa- and a crown colony in the British empire at the turn of the century to the burgeoning megacity in the twentieth. She manages to do so while at the same time placing the city as an important node in larger regional, imperial, Atlantic, and even global networks. Her scholarship while geographically situated in Lagos has made important contributions to the methodologies of legal history in Africa as well as the transregional and interdisciplinary fields of gender and abolition studies.
Mann earned her PhD in African History from Stanford University in 1976. Since then, she has published two books and is currently hard at work on her third much anticipated book manuscript. Additionally, she has co-edited two volumes that have reshaped the field of legal history in Africa and reoriented Africa’s positionality in South Atlantic studies. She has also contributed twenty-six articles and book chapters. Throughout her impressive career, a variety of prestigious funding organizations including the Fulbright-Hays, American Association of University Women, the Social Science Research Council, the Ford Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, and the American Council of Learned Societies have all recognized her academic excellence and innovative vision through their support of her scholarship.
Kristin Mann published her landmark study of marriage among the Lagosian elite during the colonial era Marrying Well: Marriage, Status and Social Change among the Educated Elite in Colonial Lagos in 1985. She recalls that after her return from her fieldwork in 1973-1974, she feared that due to the rise of social history and its concomitant emphasis on history from below in African Studies her focus on elites would be outmoded and not well-received by the scholarly community. However, Marrying Well proved to have lasting importance because she showed how marriage and sexual relationships were an important mechanism for adapting resources to needs – an enduring theme in studies of African gender and sexuality to this day. Her work showed that elite status, and implicitly non-elite, relied on the intersection of multiple variables such as urban residence, Western education, religious identity, social class, and marital alliances. In it she highlighted the individuality of African historic actors. This accomplishment three decades later seems unremarkable, but as Margaret Jean Hay pointed out in her 1987 review at the time these intimate portraits of African men and women forming marital unions was pioneering. Hay praised Mann for her book “full of distinctive men and women whose names reappear throughout the text” because this was, as Hay stated, a marked contrast to “most writing in African history is, of necessity, blandly anonymous.” Mann’s dedication to find the compelling human stories of Lagosians is one of the distinctive hallmark’s that unites all of her scholarly projects.
Mann’s follow-up, second book length project retained her focus on human relationships of dependence and their evolutions in Lagos. In Slavery and the Birth of an African History: Lagos, 1760-1900, she shifted her attention from marital relationships to that of slave and master. Published in 2007, Slavery and the Birth of an African City was the culmination of decades of painstaking research that relied on records from the Lagos Land Registry, the Lagos Probate Registry, and Lagos State High Court that she had first looked at in the 1970s. Mann received high praise for the work as an “in-depth” and “fully documented” history of an African port-city embedded in trans-Atlantic circuits. The Gilder Lerhman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University recognized Mann’s book as a finalist for the prestigious Frederick Douglass prize for the work’s importance to the field of slave studies in 2007. Methodologically, both of Mann’s monographs provide an alternative approach to the register based model of socio-legal history popularized in Richard Roberts’s Litigants and Households. She has consciously chosen to highlight records that give the deepest and richest insights into individual relationships.
No less remarkable than her publication record is her service to the African Studies community at Emory University and beyond. When she first came to Emory in 1979, there was no institution devoted to the study of Africa. At Emory, she was critical to the formation of the Institute of African Studies in the 1990s, which she served as director for from 1993 to 1996 and its co-director from 1999-2000. The high regard the African history PhD program at Emory is held nationally is a testimony to her efforts in establishing it. She has shaped generations of Africanist scholarship through her active involvement with editorial boards and her mentorship of graduate students. She served on the editorial boards of Journal of African History for a decade from 1990 to 1999 and the Lagos Historical Review from 2001 to the present. More recently in 2012, she joined the editorial board in the establishment of a new periodical devoted to the region the Journal of West African History. The diverse projects of her former graduate students, while few have focused on Lagos exclusively, have been informed by the contrasts that they draw from her expertise on the city. Lagos looms large in informing her observations on their projects. Her tireless devotion to mentoring younger scholars sets her apart as both an engaged academic and a generous human being.