Paul Landau

I am Paul Landau, a History professor at the University of Maryland in College Park. I come to what I do by way of African studies.

I teach classes about South Africa, African cities, ethnic groups and where they come from, South Africans' actual political heritage, Christianity, prophetic and political movements in West Africa and the Atlantic world, pictures and cinema and colonialism, and mid-20th century revolutionary movements and the Cold War in Africa.

My field is (southern) Africa. I am still rooted in "area studies" thinking. It goes along quite well with transnational patterns and connections. I do not like social science studies without either an argument, or a narrative, so for me, History is a Humanities subject. The best works of History are among the best books to read, period. 

I have always been interested in other ways of understanding the world, not my own. In Africa, such ways were put forward by earlier literature as "beliefs." That did not seem good enough to me.

I read anthropology, mostly about Africa, and the philosopher Wittgenstein, and I became preoccupied with the history of perception and thought among colonized people: how distorted the treatment was, and how it reflected colonial power. Distrusting the whole idea of mindsets, and so statements about what others believe, I instead tried to look very carefully at specific historical situations, paying attention to language. This way of approaching things began for me when I was an acolyte of Steven Feierman and Jan Vansina at the University of Wisconsin.

It has also been important to me to be able to work in SeTswana and (a little bit) in IsiZulu, and (re)translate voices and encounters back into English. I studied these languages with (the late) Daniel Kunene, and with Part Themba Mgadla and Jennifer Yanco.

I taught for three years at the University of New Hampshire, for four years at Yale University, and from 1999 on as an associate professor, and then a full professor, here at Maryland. I am a fellow at the History Centre at the University of Johannesburg and am participating this year at the University of the Western Cape.

At present, I'm writing about violence and revolutionary ferment in South Africa in 1960-3. My sources are almost all English-language interviews or memoirs. I am facing the same challenge as always: to understand what participants did and what they thought about what they were doing. I also read manuscripts, article submissions to various journals, and take a special interest in the African Historical Review, where I was the co-editor for five years and helped produce some excellent issues, including a special issue on Xenophobia in South Africa.

Paywall, but:

Some things I have written:

The Realm of the Word: Language, Gender and Christianity in a Southern African Kingdom (Portsmouth: Heinemann,1995), "finalist for the Herskovits Prize".

“Transformations in Consciousness,” the last chapter in the two-volume Cambridge History of South Africa, Vol. 1 (2010).

"Language" for the Companion series to the Oxford History of the British Empire, a volume edited by Norman Etherington, called Missions and Empire. 2005.

Orig. nondigital and behind a paywall: "The Image of Christ in the Kalahari Desert," Representations, 45 (1994), 26-40.

Same: "Explaining Surgical Evangelism in Colonial Southern Africa: Teeth, Pain and Faith," Journal of African History, 37, 2 (1996), 261-281.

Same: "Hegemony and History in Jean and John L. Comaroff's "Of Revelation and Revolution"," Africa: Journal of the International African Institute70, No. 3 (2000), pp. 501-519.

Co-edited book (with Deborah Kaspin), Images and Empires: Visuality in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa (Univ. of Cal., 2002).

Popular Politics in the History of South Africa, 1400 to 1948 (Cambridge University Press, 2010), "finalist for the Herskovits prize".

which is: "The ANC, MK, and 'the Turn to Violence,'" 2012, in The South African Historical Journal, no longer behind a paywall.

(And see the companion piece, "Controlled by Communists? (Re)Assessing the ANC in its Exilic Decades," in the same journal, 2015, if you have a Muse or Jstor connection to SAHJ.)

I have also written essays on religion and missionaries (two big essays, one based on archival research) for German publications that will be seen by . . . very few English-speaking people. I will post a link to one of or both of them here at some point.

The book I am working on will be called Spear: Nelson Mandela and the Revolution: 1958 to 1964. Or something similar. Cast your vote for a better title via email:

Above all, I have tried to make what I write about, modern history and politics, and Africans' deepest political inclinations, aspects of one story: history, accessible to as many as possible, or at least, debarred to few.


I have an adjunct appointment in African American Studies and since 2011, I am a Fellow in Historical Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

Taliaferro Hall