Ph. D. candidate Stephen Pierce describes his love for teaching, his interest in the history of Islamic institutions in East Africa and what he’ll miss most about Madison, Wis. Pierce served as the African Studies Program Publications Assistant between 2014-2015 and recently accepted a faculty position at Indiana University.
Hometown: Reading, PA
Field of study: African History
What is your relationship with the African Studies Program on campus?
I’m a doctoral candidate in African history, studying the history of Islamic institutions on the East African coast. I’ve also acted as the Publications Assistant for the African Studies Program for the past year.
What is your favorite thing about Madison?
Snow. I know this is weird, but I absolutely loved the snow. Where else can you go to a great university where snow is on the ground constantly from November to April?
After a career in K-12 education, what inspired you to pursue graduate studies?
As a high school teacher, you often encounter students who are hesitant to apply for schools/careers/majors that they think they might not be able to achieve. After several years of encouraging my own students to pursue excellence in their educational goals, I realized that I had put my own goals—including graduate school—on hold. While I’ve never stopped loving teaching, several people whose advice I trusted encouraged me to go back to graduate school.
How did your K-12 experiences prepare you to teach at the university level?
Students at all levels of education are still people. Teaching at the university level is certainly different from teaching high-school students in a lot of ways, but the hard lessons of teaching—how to interacting with students, having empathy, teaching to different learning styles, and carrying my own enthusiasm for my course subject into the classroom—I learned from my students at the secondary level.
What inspired your interest in Africa?
I was profoundly impressed by an African history course I took during my master’s degree program at Northeastern University, where we unpacked the connections between Africa and the rest of the world. This may seem a passé observation, but I found myself fascinated by the deep roots global interaction had in Africa, and specifically the interaction between the Islamic world and East Africa.
Briefly tell us about your work, as it relates to Africa:
I study the history of Islamic institutions of charity in East Africa, mostly using archival material and interviews in Zanzibar and Mombasa, Kenya. Charity may seem like an unusual topic to study during the precolonial and early colonial period for a lot of reasons, but the implications of not considering African peoples’ own care for each other in charitable way is profound. My research suggests that charity has a much deeper history in East Africa than we think about at first blush, and an understanding of this history forces us to reevaluate what we know and assume about Islamic charity and global charity.
What will you teach in your new position in Indiana?
I’ll teach World History, African History, history of the Middle East, and Historical Methods at IWU.
What is one thing you’re looking forward to through your move and career transition?
I’m honestly looking forward to getting back into the classroom. My research informs my teaching, but even more than that my teaching also energizes my research. I get my best ideas about my own work talking with students in the classroom.
Profile produced by Meagan Doll.
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