Jonathon Earle (right) and Spencer Lawson '15.

Earle adds to publications, notes success of student/faculty collaboration

by Matt Overing

Centre College News

Excellence in research has brought about excellence in teaching for Centre College professor Jonathon Earle.

The Grissom Professor of Social Studies at Centre, Earle was recently named editor for the future “Cambridge History of African Political Thought,” an ambitious project on the intellectual history of Africa.

He has long been considered an expert on the east African country of Uganda, and through that expertise has opened new experiences for students at the College.

Students study at the National Museum of African Art.
Sarah Holloway (left) and Colleen Coyle inspect artifacts at the National Museum of African Art.

 “At Centre, research and teaching are not separate spheres,” Earle said. “They exist hand-in-hand, bringing together the best of the liberal arts tradition with cutting-edge research. Research matters for our students. Aggressive research among the faculty today means the promise of truly exceptional, life-changing opportunities for students in the future.”

Earle first became interested in the east African country in the early 2000s as an undergraduate, listening to stories from historians and peasants in the southern and eastern parts of the country. He found that the realities for those two groups were very different—and he has since dedicated his time to telling the stories of power and complexity in east Africa, earning a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge on the history of Uganda.

From his first book project, “Colonial Buganda and the End of Empire,” to his most recent publication, “Decolonising State and Society in Uganda,” Earle has made it his goal to better understand Uganda and its history.

It has been quite a year for Earle as an expert in the field of east African and Ugandan studies:

  • Earle proposed and organized the editorial team for the two-volume series on “Cambridge History of African Political Thought,” which he describes as a “career-making series.”
  • He has brought scholars together from North America, Europe and Africa to publish a major edited volume “Decolonising State and Society in Uganda,” which looks at the knowledge economy and decolonialization of African Studies.
  • In the spring, he spoke at Oxford University on the anniversary of Uganda’s Asian expulsion.
  • In 2021 Earle was the co-recipient of the Waldo G. Leland Prize from the American Historical Association for the best reference work published in the past five years. He was a chapter contributor for the “Oxford Encyclopedia of African Historiography: Methods and Sources.”

It is through these recognitions and research that Earle can bring students into world-class opportunities.

Jonathon Earle (right) and Emily Rodes Spencer ’16 notably completed the Cambridge Centre for African Studies’ first digitization project in 2015.
Jonathon Earle (right) and Emily Rodes Spencer ’16 notably completed the Cambridge Centre for African Studies’ first digitization project in 2015.

“Through cross-fertilization, allowing our research and teaching to speak to each other, we fashion opportunities as innovative as they are exhilarating,” he said.

Earle helped Parker Lawson ’15 successfully apply to programs at the University of Cambridge, while he and Emily Rodes Spencer ’16 notably completed the Cambridge Centre for African Studies’ first digitization project in 2015.

Earle’s expertise benefits students like Lawson and Spencer, opening doors that would have otherwise not existed.

“In addition to the advantage of students learning from leading scholars in their fields, the benefits are very practical,” Earle said. “Cutting-edge research and publications translate into invitations to speak at conferences and universities worldwide, and life-changing studies abroad in Uganda, Rwanda, or with the Horology Department in the British Museum.”

Earle has hosted a seminar on Idi Amin’s Uganda— the third president of the country—which convened in the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. 

Locally, Earle’s work inspired “Goebel,” an award-winning podcast in 2020, in which his students went through archives throughout Kentucky to tell the story of the 34th Governor of Kentucky, William Goebel, the only American governor to die from an assassin’s bullet while in office. 

“I am grateful for my research. And I am humbled by the communities from whom I have learned along the way,” Earle said. “But faculty research matters, because it’s not about the faculty. It is about advancing knowledge and, for a historian, giving voice to perspectives often silenced in global history writing.”

At top: Centre College Professor Jonathon Earle (right) helped student Parker Lawson '15 successfully apply to a program at the University of Cambridge.