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KU Professor Awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research Grant

Dr. Christine SaidiAugust 10, 2016

KUTZTOWN, Pa. - Dr. Christine Saidi, associate professor, Kutztown University Department of History, has been awarded a $200,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Collaborative Research Grant.  Saidi and her collaborators, Rhonda M. Gonzales, University of Texas, San Antonio, and Cymone Fourshey, Bucknell University, received the award which was established to support interpretive research undertaken by a team of two or more collaborating scholars that adds significantly to knowledge and understanding of the humanities.

Historical research is usually a solitary endeavor, which is why Saidi is looking forward to working together with a transnational collaborative research team to examine the breadth and depth of social, political, economic and institutional authority women have held in Central and East Africa.

During the span of the three-year grant, the professors, together with their colleagues in Africa, plan to conduct research and data analysis on gender history in a region that is predominantly matrilineal historically and to collaborate with African colleagues involved in similar research on the continent. The historical questions are being explored primarily in the countries of Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.

Their project centers on questions about lineage and gender as features of authority, identity, belonging, and worldview historically in eastern and central Africa's Bantu speaking communities. They will build on prior studies and their own individual research to examine the history and meanings of words people spoke to understand what they did, produced and valued over the last 5,000 years. Their fieldwork and data analysis will be compiled in a book​and digital resources ​in what will be a major contribution to theories of pre-colonial histories of gender, authority and family in the region. ​

The grant will allow Saidi to continue her research on early Bantu matrilineal societies, which started with her book Women's Authority and Community in Early East-Central Africa.  The research funded by the NEH will add both quantitative data and qualitative analysis to the current debate on the role of matrilineality in both early African and world history. This study will also contribute to international gender studies, since it will look at early African societies where women appeared to have a great deal of authority, and this could very well challenge the idea that patriarchy is universal throughout all of history and found in every part of the world. 

Finally there are two very practical applications for this research.   First, it will change how scholars teach African history, and international gender theories.  Additionally this research could transform how aid and development work is conceptualized and implemented in Africa, since most development theories applied to Africa either came from Asia or are based on old/ out of date research.

Saidi will bring students into her work, giving them opportunities to do innovative and creative research by involving them in data collection and analysis, map making and producing academic scholarship.  Saidi will also use her research to enhance her teaching of both African and world history.