Research

Although I’m trained as a historian, I’m interested in multidisciplinary scholarship and using mixed methods in my own work. As a grad student at Yale, I worked to promote connections across departments, first by working in different capacities for the McDougal Center for Graduate Student Life and later as the Program Coordinator for the interdisciplinary Program in Agrarian Studies of the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. One of the reasons I was drawn to work at the Tobin Project is because it enables scholars from a variety of disciplines — political science, history, economics, sociology, law, etc. — to collectively consider research questions from numerous methodological angles.

My own research looks at the history of Ghana’s rubber industry from ~1880 to the present. Drawing on archival, oral historical, and participant observation methods, I use rubber forests, farms, and factories as lenses to explore how people in the colonial Gold Coast and Ghana — farmers and workers, politicians and union reps, traders and student activists, etc. — made sense of and responded to the possibilities and perils of producing for the world market during:

  • the early colonial era when British imperialists wrangled for control over African territories, resources, and people,
  • colonial Africa’s cash crop revolution when African farmers massively expanded the continent’s agricultural exports,
  • the Second World War when Allied forces desperately drew raw materials from African colonies following Japan’s Pacific campaign,
  • the post-war period when people in the Gold Coast worked out how best to secure political and economic sovereignty,
  • the global Cold War when Ghanaian leaders aimed to rapidly industrialize the new nation to preserve Ghana’s independence in a hostile international environment,
  • the age of structural adjustment and neoliberalism when Ghanaians encountered and contested new forms of colonialism.

How did the world rubber market, with its volatile booms and busts throughout the 1880s-1950s, impact African livelihoods and environments, particularly in the remote (forested, wet, western) areas of the Gold Coast where wild rubber grew? In the 1950s-60s, how did people in this remote area respond to nationalist efforts to incorporate western Ghana into its nation-making and modernizing mission? Since then, how has the agro-industry launched by the state immediately following independence affected Ghana’s physical and political landscapes, its national economy, and its citizens’ livelihoods? How, in turn, have Ghanaian farmers and workers shaped the industry?

To answer these questions, I visited archives in Ghana (PRAAD branches in Accra, Cape Coast, Sekondi, Sunyani, Koforidua, and Kumasi, plus corporate archives), the UK (National Archives at Kew, plus special collections at SOAS, Cambridge, and Oxford), and the US (NARA, plus WA Lewis papers at Princeton’s special collections). Additionally, I conducted extensive oral historical research in western Ghana. I also completed a four-month attachment/internship with the Rubber Outgrowers Unit of Ghana Rubber Estates Limited to learn the technical dimensions of rubber production.

My interdisciplinary dissertation committee included Robert Harms (Yale, Department of History), Daniel Magaziner (Yale, Department of History), Paul Sabin (Yale, Department of History), K. Sivaramakrishnan (Yale, Department of Anthropology and School of Forestry & Environmental Studies), and Jeffrey Ahlman (Smith College, Department of History).

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