A recent book by Centre College’s Assistant Professor of History Jon Earle, titled “Colonial Buganda and the End of Empire: Political Thought and Historical Imagination in Africa,” is a finalist for the Bethwell A. Ogot Prize of the African Studies Association (ASA). Earle’s book was also recently covered in the New Books Network series.
The ASA is the largest and most distinguished scholarly organization devoted to the study of Africa. The award is given each year at the ASA Annual Meeting to the author of the best book on East African Studies published in the previous calendar year. This past year, there were four finalists for this prize.
“And while I did not ultimately win, I’m still very grateful to have been short-listed for such a prestigious award,” Earle said.
As an extension of Earle’s Ph.D. thesis, his book retells the story of anticolonial nationalism in eastern Africa.
“Until now, historians of Uganda have tended to offer singular narratives to explain how the end of the empire unfolded in Uganda,” he explained. “Each of my book’s chapters, though, explore a different vision that was circulating throughout 1950s Uganda, especially in the precolonial Kingdom of Buganda, whose rulers and chiefs had largely controlled Uganda’s colonial hierarchy. There did not exist a single historical or political vision that propelled democratic discourse on the eve of Uganda’s independence.”
In this book, Earle focuses on Uganda’s intellectual history, which concerns the creation, circulation and contestation of political ideas and public memory.
Earle said he is interested in how political and religious histories are invented, standardized and debated, and how these public constructions illuminate local epistemologies.
In order to write this book, Earle drew from more than 100 interviews he conducted in Uganda and the United Kingdom. He also worked in over 22 archives in multiple languages around Europe, Uganda and the U.S.
“During the early development of this book, I worked with local communities to identify the private papers and annotated libraries of each of the subjects of my book,” he said. “This enabled me to think in very intimate and detailed ways about how activists were reworking international ideas and literacies into vernacular debates about kingship, power, authority and political possibility.”
Through this process, Earle was able to problematize much of the existing literature on the history of religion and politics in colonial Uganda.
As a history professor, Earle draws from his own book to shape his approach to leading study abroad trips in eastern Africa, including a CentreTerm course in January. He tries to show how memories differ and how historical and theological imagination is deeply connected to the production of political power.
“This book is the result of the support of my family and my friends and colleagues in Uganda and the United Kingdom, without whose help this book would not have been possible,” he said. “I was also assisted by Mr. George Mpanga, a very dear friend and research associate. Additionally, the original Ph.D. was expertly supervised by Derek Peterson and John Lonsdale at Cambridge University.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
December 13, 2018