Africa at Noon on November 16, 2016

“A Conversation on Urban Life in Africa: Mini-Buses, Moviegoing and Popular Culture in Zanzibar and Nairobi”




Kenda Mutongi
Professor, History
Williams College

Laura Fair
Associate Professor, History
Michigan State University

Time and Location

12:00pm, 206 Ingra­ham Hall, 1155 Obser­va­tory Drive, Madi­son, WI


Kenda Mutongi was born and raised in a small village in western Kenya. She attended Coe College and then the University of Virginia where she earned a PhD in African history. She is the author of two books: Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya (University of Chicago Press, 2007), which received an Honorable Mention from the African Studies Association’s Melville J. Herskovits Award for the best scholarly book on Africa, and MATATU:  A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming).   Her research and tea chings interests are in Modern Africa, Political Economy, Transport Culture, Urban History and Gender.

Laura Fair is a historian of Tanzanian urban social, cultural and gendered history.  Her first book, Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community and Identity in Post-Abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890–1945 (Ohio University Press, 2001), illustrates how former slaves used the social and cultural tools at their command—including music and dance, sex and procreation, Islam, fashion, football, and neighborhood—to demonstrate their freedom from slavery and articulate alternative visions of justice under colonialism.  In 2013 Fair published Historia ya Jamii ya Zanzibar na Nyimbo za Siti binti Saad (A Social History of Zanzibar and the Songs of Siti binti Saad) in Kiswahili. This book puts the life and music of Siti binti Saad, a woman whose band was the first to produce records in Kiswahili in 1928, at the center of these larger struggles for social change in the early twentieth century. Siti was herself a child of the rural poor and one of the thousands who migrated to the city in the years following the abolition of slavery.

Dr. Fair’s current project is a wide-ranging study of commercial cinema in colonial and postcolonial Tanzania. Reel LivesThe Business and Pleasures of Movie-going in Twentieth Century Urban Tanzania, explores changes in exhibition, distribution and reception from 1900-2014.  She has recently published ‘Drive-In Socialism: Debating Modernities and Development in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania,’ The American Historical Review (2013) 118 (4): 1077-1104.