Richard L. Roberts

Richard L. Roberts

Fellow: Awarded 2013

Field of Study: African Studies

Competition: US & Canada

Richard Roberts is the Frances and Charles Field Professor in the History Department at Stanford University, where he has taught African history since 1980 and served as director of the Center for African Studies for nearly two decades.  His research has probed elements of social, economic, and legal change in French West Africa from the precolonial period to the end of colonial rule with a focus on how Africans experienced the encounters between dynamic and changing local processes and wider moments of transformation. 

After working on the influence of state formation on the structure and performance of the regional economy of the Middle Niger Valley of what is now Mali, the end of slavery in Africa, and on the encounter between French colonial cotton development and the local handicraft textile industry, Roberts has turned to colonial court records to mine the lived experiences of Africans.  His interest in colonial legal history began with a co-edited volume with Kristin Mann, Law in Colonial Africa (1991).  His Litigants and Households:  African Disputes and Colonial Courts in the French Soudan, 1895–1912 (2005) was based on an analysis of over 2,000 entry level civil disputes brought by Africans to the newly created native courts.  Most cases heard in these courts dealt with marriage, divorce, and child-custody disputes.  He has since co-edited with Emily Burrill and Elizabeth Thornberry, Domestic Violence and the Law in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa (2010); with Shamil Jeppie and Ebrahim Moosa, Muslim Family Law in Sub-Saharan Africa:  Colonial Legacies and Postcolonial Challenges (2010); and with Benjamin Lawrance, Trafficking in Slavery’s Wake:  Experiences of Women and Children (2012). 

His current project on the history of households and marriages in African history builds on his interest in how Africans lived the big transformations since the era of the slave trade through the HIV/AIDS pandemic.