Rachel Taylor

I am a historian of East and Central Africa, with a particular interest in how Africans build meaningful lives and communities in times of great social, political and economic change.

I developed an interest in African history purely by chance, as the result of taking a few fascinating classes during my undergraduate degree in History at the University of Durham.  After a few years pursuing a non-academic career, I realised that most people did not read books on African history on the way to and from work, and that I wanted to take my interest further.  I received an AHRC grant to pursue an M.A. in African History at SOAS, and quit my job the same day.

I then pursued a Ph.D. in African History at Northwestern University in Chicago.  My dissertation, ‘Crafting Cosmopolitanism: Nyamwezi Male Labor, Acquisition and Honor c1750-1914’ explored the ways that successive generations of men from Unyamwezi (Tanzania) used labour and consumption practices to build a new form of honourable cosmopolitan masculinity. It was based on research in Britain, Germany and Tanzania, supported by an International Dissertation Research Grant from the (US) Social Science Research Council.

Joining the ‘Comparing the Copperbelt’ project allows me to pursue my thematic interests in a new, but related, regional and temporal setting.  My research project explores the ways in which copper miners and other Copperbelt residents in mid to late twentieth century Katanga deployed their wealth to build families in and beyond Copperbelt towns.  I explore not just the forms that families and other relationships took, but also the narratives that researchers, colonialists, missionaries, and different groups of Copperbelt residents used to describe ideal and actual families, and how these narratives helped to shape Africans’ aspirations and actions.