Professor of History
Geographic Field(s): African History
Principal Research Interest(s): Africa before 1900
*Professor Schoenbrun is no longer accepting graduate students*
David Schoenbrun (Ph.D., UCLA, 1990) has been learning, teaching, and writing about Africa since 1978. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and the Co-Executive Producer of two films. He works with historical linguistics, archaeology, paleoecology and biogeography, oral traditions, comparative ethnography, and more conventional documentary sources to study East Africa’s earlier history.
Program of African Studies, Core affiliated faculty.
- The Names of the Python: Belonging in East Africa, 900-1930 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2021).
- Winner, 2022 Bethwell A. Ogot Book Prize, awarded by the African Studies Association of the U.S.
- A Green Place, A Good Place: Agrarian Change, Gender, and Social Identity in the Great Lakes Region to the 15th century. (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1998). [The Social History of Africa Series, Allen Isaacman and Jean Allman, Series Editors].
- CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title (1999). Download PDF of Book
- The Historical Reconstruction of Great Lakes Bantu Cultural Vocabulary: Etymologies and Distributions. (Köln: Rüdiger Köppe Press, 1997).
- The African Archaeological Review (Cambridge University Press). [Special Issue: Papers in Honour of Merrick Posnansky, volume 11 (1993). [With Candace Goucher and David W. Phillipson]
Articles and Review Essays
[With Steven A. Brandt and Shomarka Keita] "Afro-Asiatic" for M. Robbeets (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Archaeolinguistics (Oxford: Oxford University Press), accepted.
[With Akin Ogundiran] "Orality, Language and African Histories of Technology" for D. Schäfer, et al. (eds.) The New Cambridge History of Technology, Vol.1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), forthcoming.
- "Gender Time, Gendered Time: In parts of Africa," Nordic Journal of African Studies 32, 1 (2023), 165-84.
Rebecca Grollemund, David Schoenbrun, and Jan Vansina, "Moving Histories: Bantu Language Expansions, Eclectic Economies, and Mobilities," Journal of African History 64, 1 (2023), 13-37.
Rebecca Grollemund and David Schoenbrun on Interpreting Bantu Language Expansions, Journal of African History Podcast.
"Vashambadzi: The Coast Walkers," Radical History Review 144 (2022), 173-203. Special Issue: Afropolitans. Rosa Carrasquillo, Melina Pappademos, and Lorelle Semley (eds.)
- "Words, Things, and Meaning: Linguistics as a Tool for Historical Reconstruction," in Rainer Vossen and Gerrit Dimmendaal (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of African Languages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 961-72.
- "Early African Pasts: Sources, Interpretations, and Meaning," in Thomas Spear (Ed-in-Chief) Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African Historiography, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 7-44.
- “Crafting Early African Histories with Jan Vansina,” History in Africa 45 (2018): 99-112.
- “Ethnic Formation with Other-Than-Human Beings,” (Lead author, with Jennifer L. Johnson, Anthropology, Purdue U.), History in Africa 45 (2018): 307-345.
- “Ethnic Formation with Other-Than-Human Beings: Island Shrine Practice in Uganda’s Long Eighteenth Century,” History in Africa 45 (2018): 397-443.
- “Early African Pasts: Sources, Interpretations, and Meaning.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History (Oxford University Press. Article published November 2018).
- “Oral Traditions.” In A. Livingstone Smith, E. Cornelissen, O. Gosselain, and S. MacEachern, (eds.) Field Manual for Archaeology in Africa (Tervuren: Africa Museum, 2017), forthcoming (e-publication).
- “Pythons Worked: Constellating Communities of Practice with Conceptual Metaphor in Northern Victoria Nyanza, ca. 800-1200 CE,” in Andrew Roddick and Ann Brower Stahl (eds.) Knowledge in Motion: Constellations of Learning Across Time and Space (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016), 216-46.
- “A Mask of Calm: Emotion and Founding the Kingdom of Bunyoro in the 16th Century,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 55, 3 (2013), 634-64.
- “Mixing, Moving, Making, Meaning: Possible Futures for the Distant Past,” African Archaeological Review 29, 2 (2012), 293-317.
- "Controlling the Fire: The Value of the Bead in Ghana" Producers: David Schoenbrun, Kearsley Stewart (Global Health, Duke University), and Harlan Wallach (NUAMPS).
- “The Vicissitudes of Language in Writing Precolonial African History,” H-Net, (2010), 32 paragraphs.
- “African Pasts for African Futures in a Time of Radical Environmental Change: Notes on History and Policy in Africa’s Reconstruction.” Program of African Studies Working Papers 17 (2009). 43pp.
- “Geography of Meaning, Topography of Struggle: in a Kinyarwanda Dictionary,” African Studies Review 51, 1 (2008), 119-125.
- “Violence, Marginality, Scorn, and Honour: Language Evidence of Slavery to the 18th century,” in Henri Médard and Shane Doyle (eds.) Slavery in the Great Lakes Region (Oxford: James Currey Publishers, 2007), 38-75.
- “Conjuring the Modern in Africa: Durability and Rupture in Histories of Public Healing Between the Great Lakes of East Africa,” American Historical Review, 111, 5 (December, 2006), 1403-1439.
- “Violence and Vulnerability in Eastern Africa Before 1800: A Research Conspectus,” History Compass 4, 5 (2006), 741-60. [Republished in the Virtual Special Issue: Violence and History 6, 4 (2008)]
- “Gendered Themes in Early African History: 2000 BCE to 1400 CE.” Theresa Meade and Merry Weisner-Hanks (eds.) Companion to Gender History (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2004), 249-72. [Paperback edition released in 2006]
- “Knowing Africa, or What Africa Knows?” African Studies Review 44, 1 (2001), 97-112.
- “Representing the Bantu Expansions: What’s At Stake?” & “Comment on Ehret’s ‘Bantu Expansions’,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 34, 1 (2001), 1-4; 56-61.
- “The (In)Visible Roots of Bunyoro-Kitara and Buganda in the Lakes Region: 800-1300.” In Susan Keech McIntosh (ed.) Beyond Chiefdoms: Pathways to Complexity in Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 136-50.
- “Myth’s History or History’s Myth: Christopher Wrigley and the history of Obuganda,” Azania 34 (1999), 123-33.
- “Gendered Histories Between the Great Lakes: Varieties and Limits.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 29, 3 (1997), 461-92.
- “Some Thoughts on the Ancient Historical Dimensions of the Current Conflicts in the Greater Kivu Region.” Uganda Journal 43 (1996), 52-60.
- “An Intellectual History of Power: Usable Pasts from the Great Lakes Region.” In Gilbert Pwiti and Robert Soper (eds.) Aspects of African Archaeology: Papers from the 10th Congress of the PanAfrican Association for Prehistory and Related Studies (Harare: University of Zimbabwe Publications, 1996), 693-702.
- “A Narrative History of People and Forests Between the Great Lakes. ca. 1000 B.C. to ca. A.D. 1500.” Boston University African Studies Center Working Paper No. 194 (Boston: African Studies Center, 1995).
- “Social Dimensions of Agricultural Change in the Great Lakes Region, 500 to 1000.” Azania 29/30 (1994/1995), 270-82.
- [With Andrew Reid] “The Emergence of Social Formations and Inequality in the Great Lakes Region.” Archaeological Review from Cambridge 13, 1 (1994), 51-60.
- “Great Lakes Bantu: Classification and Settlement Chronology.” Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika 15 (1994), 91-152.
- “The Contours of Vegetation Change and Human Agency in Eastern Africa’s Great Lakes Region: ca. 2000 B.C. to ca. A.D. 1000.” History in Africa 21 (1994), 269-302.
- “A Past Whose Time Has Come: Historical Context and History in the Great Lakes Region.” History & Theory 32, 4 (1993), 32-56.
- “We Are What We Eat: Ancient Agriculture Between the Great Lakes.” Journal of African History 34, 1 (1993), 1-31. [Reprinted in: Jeffrey Pilcher (ed.) Food History: Critical and Primary Sources (New Delhi: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014).]
- “Cattle Herds and Banana Gardens: the Historical Geography of the Western Great Lakes Region, 500-1500.” African Archaeological Review 11 (1993), 39-72.
- “Treating an Interdisciplinary Allergy: Methodological Approaches to Pollen Studies for the Historian of Early Africa.” History in Africa 18 (1991), 323-48.
- “Jan Vansina (1929-2017): A Founder Figure in the Study of Africa’s Past, Early and Recent,” Azania 52, 2 (2017), 267-70.
- “Review of Christopher Ehret, History and the Testimony of Language,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 43, 3 (2012), 459-61.
- “The Art of Living Between the Great Lakes Before the States: History of the Interlacustrine Region, (1000 BCE to 1500 CE),” in John Middleton and Joseph Miller, General Editors, New Encyclopedia of Africa (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008), 31-35.
- “Forging a Research Agenda at the Intersections of Africanist and Diasporic Scholarship,” PAS News and Events 12, 2 (Winter, 2002), 2.
- “Review of Jean-Pierre Chrétien, L’Afrique des Grands Lacs: Deux mille ans d’Histoire (Paris: Aubier, 2000),” International Journal of African Historical Studies 33, 3 (2000), 696-701.
- “Comment on Scott MacEachern, ‘Genes, People, and History’,” Current Anthropology 41, 3 (2000), 378-79.
- “Review of Colleen Kriger, Pride of Men: Ironworking in 19th Century West Central Africa (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1998),” International Journal of African Historical Studies 32, 2/3 (1999), 435-39.
- “Comment on David N. Beach, ‘Cognitive Archaeology and Imaginary History at Great Zimbabwe’,” Current Anthropology 39, 1 (1998), 65-66.
- “Interlacustrine Bantu Region, History.” In John Middleton (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Africa South of the Sahara, Volume 2 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1997), 383-6.
- “Review of Joseph K. Adjaye (ed.) Time in the Black Experience (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press),” International Journal of African Historical Studies 29, 1 (1996), 168-73.
- “Review of David Newbury. Kings and Clans: Ijwi Island and the Lake Kivu Rift, 1780-1840. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991).” International Journal of African Historical Studies 26, 3 (1993), 637-40.
- “Using the White Fathers Archive: An Update.” History in Africa 20 (1993), 421-22.
- “Introduction to Africa: From Earliest Times to 1600.” In Daniel Smith (ed.) African History: Selected Course Outlines and Reading Lists from American Colleges and Universities (New York: Markus Weiner, 1993), 76-87.
- “Review of J. Desmond Clark and Steven A. Brandt (eds.) From Hunters to Farmers: The Causes and Consequences of Food Production in Africa (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984).” UCLA Historical Journal 7 (1986), 110-115.
- Schoenbrun has worked with graduate students in all regions and periods of African history, but most have focused on Africa before 1900. They include Edda Fields-Black (Carnegie Mellon U.), Neil Kodesh (U of Wisconsin Madison), Rhiannon Stephens (Columbia U.), Kate de Luna (Georgetown U.), Pamela Khanakwa (Makerere U.).
- Schoenbrun teaches undergraduate surveys of Africa to 1700, East Africa to 1900, and topical Seminars in Violence and African History, African Anthropocene.
- Schoenbrun’s teaching puts the primary sources for writing Africa’s past into students’ hands, so they can see for themselves how we do that work. He also helps students understand the forces that have shaped their knowledge of Africa’s past.