Fellow: Awarded 2012
Field of Study: African Studies
Competition: US & Canada
Luise White is professor of history at the University of Florida, where she has taught since 1998. Trained in Great Britain in the era of Thompsonian social history, she spent most of her career researching and writing the social and cultural history of colonial East and Central Africa, using interviews to recuperate the lives and experiences of colonized people. When she began working on Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia, before that Southern Rhodesia), the new project seemed like the best kind of departure, a chance to do something different—not only to write a political history of a place that had never been a formal colony, but to write one based entirely on written sources, including the extraordinary number of novels and memoirs Rhodesians wrote. Indeed, the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) by Rhodesia’s white minority in 1965 seemed to be a perfect anomaly, the lone exception to the orderly processes of decolonization of the 1960s. Several archives and articles later, however, it was impossible to disentangle the political from the social, or the oral from the written: in Zimbabwe she had frequent conversations with participants in these events, and, on closer reading, the novels were often intertextual with memoirs that were formulaic in the extreme. More important, perhaps, was that the fourteen years of Rhodesia’s renegade independence was less of an anomaly than it was a set of shifting practices that reflected increasingly transnational ideas about race and culture. In this, Rhodesian independence threw not only colonization but decolonization into high relief. As the project changed, the questions that emerged from conversations, files, official documents, novels, and memoirs came to be about how citizenship was imagined, and how that imaginary opened and closed the spaces that allowed for differences in culture and history. To address this question, this book project is a history of the African franchise in Rhodesia and the broader question of how one-man, one-vote became the natural logic of decolonization. Voter qualification, with its minutia of which income was equivalent to how many years of schooling, and how African incomes, or years of schooling, could be rendered equivalent to that of whites, illustrated the core of ideas about, and experiences of, racial domination. This book is organized around Rhodesia’s many constitutions, and examines how ideas about difference, history, culture and citizenship were deployed in a racialized regime in the era of African decolonization.