Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - Institute of Asian and African Studies

Dr. Morgan Robinson

Curriculum Vitae | Publications
Dr. Morgan Robinson
morgan.robinson (at)

Humboldt-Universität → Präsidium → Kultur-, Sozial- und Bildungswissenschaftliche Fakultät → Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften → Geschichte Afrikas
Function / Working Area
AvH Scholarship holder
Visiting address
Invalidenstraße 118 , Room 403
Phone number
(030) 2093 66104
Mailing address
Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin


Making the African University: Histories of Inquiry in Eastern Africa, 1750-1985

Funding institution: Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung

Funding period: 05/2021 – 05/2022


My proposed project, Making the African University: Histories of Inquiry in Eastern Africa, 1750-1985 examines the diverse frameworks of scholarly inquiry that co-mingled across two centuries on the coast of East Africa. Ranging from discussions on the baraza (front porches) of Zanzibar and Mombasa, to the universities of Kampala and Dar es Salaam, this is a cultural and intellectual history of the African university that looks broadly across time and space. The matrix of constraints and possibilities surrounding the teaching and research processes within university settings is what I refer to as the ‘framework of inquiry.’ The project examines how these frameworks were developed locally, even within highly bureaucratized institutions such as colonial universities. There was, I argue, a long history of scholarly debate in coastal East Africa that was not wholly subsumed by the Euro-American academic model. The university is the site in which I can examine how these various traditions of inquiry and debate became consolidated within institutions: in this case, Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and later, the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

In order to encompass the wide chronological and geographic span of the study, Making the African University is built from both synchronic and diachronic case studies, at times comparing across space and at others across time. The study begins in the eighteenth century, using the extant 'Ajamī manuscripts housed in libraries in Germany and the UK in order to explore the early models of debate, inquiry, and expertise that existed on the coast of East Africa prior to the arrival of European colonial influence. 'Ajamī is a modified form of the Arabic script used to represent the Bantu sounds of the Swahili language. ('Ajamī scripts have also been used to write, for instance, the Hausa and Yoruba languages of West Africa.) These documents have been the subject of analysis by literary scholars and linguists, but few historians have approached them with an eye toward the social and intellectual history of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century eastern Africa. This part of the project will also examine the models of inquiry provided by madrasas in Zanzibar and along the coast, following the links between this form of mass education and the institutions of higher learning across the Muslim world from Mecca to Cairo. Finally, it will explore public performances of argument through poetry readings and ngoma dance competitions.


  • Advanced Swahili
  • Elementary German
  • Elementary French



  • Member, Graduate Committee
    Department of History, Mississippi State University, 2019-Currently
  • Off-Campus Recruiting Coordinator
    Department of History, Mississippi State University, 2019-2020
  • Comprehensive Exams Committee Member
    Michael Harris, M.A. degree awarded June 2020; Josh Bader, History Ph.D. candidate, October 2019; Jack Verhayden, History Ph.D. candidate, October 2019; Khadim Doumouya, French M.A. degree awarded June 2019
  • Article Manuscript Review for the Journal of Eastern African Studies, April 2020