I am an historian and anthropologist of West Africa. My interests include the history of science, nature and technology, ethnic and state formation, and sacred engagements with the earth. My first book, A Ritual Geology, explores the pre-colonial and colonial roots of contemporary conflicts over mineral discovery and property rights in West Africa’s gold mining boom. The book spans developments on goldfields in Senegal, Mali, and Guinea. But my research agenda emerges from a long-term engagement with agrarian communities of Pular and Maninka speakers in southeastern Senegal. My work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and various institutions at the University of Michigan and New York University. In 2018-2019, I was a fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Studies at Harvard University.
Set against the ongoing corporate enclosure of West Africa’s goldfields, A Ritual Geology tells the untold history of one of the world’s oldest indigenous gold mining industries, known as orpaillage in Francophone West Africa. Centering African miners as producers of subterranean knowledge, this book uncovers a dynamic “ritual geology” of techniques and cosmological engagements with the earth developed by noncentralized agrarian communities of savanna West Africa’s gold-bearing rocks. Exploration geology in the region was built upon the ritual knowledge, gold discoveries, and skilled labor of African miners even as states racialized African mining as archaic, criminal, and pagan. Spanning the medieval and colonial past to the postcolonial present, I weave together long-term ethnographic and oral historical work in southeastern Senegal with archival and archeological evidence from the goldfields of Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Mali. A Ritual Geology establishes geological formations as a new regional framework for African studies, environmental history, and anthropology.
At NYU, I teach surveys on African history for all time periods. I also offer seminars on decolonization and humanitarianism; African ways of knowing; race and the environment, and New York as an African City. At the graduate level, I teach courses on African history, environmental history, and nature and technology in the modern world. I advise graduate projects on diverse topics across the African continent in addition to students of other world regions whose projects engage with the history of science, technology, and the environment