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Understanding Keny


Bad landlords and bad tenants": Rent Control and the Contestations over Private Housing in Lagos, Nigeria, 1941-55

November 09, 2018

Halimat Somotan presented her work on Lagos illustrating how the debates for and against rent control in Lagos during and after World War II shaped the narratives of urban life and belonging. Like many colonies across Africa, which contributed material and human resources to the war, Lagos, the capital of colonial Nigeria, experienced economic downturns. Residents suffered from unemployment, low wages, lack of adequate housing, and inflated prices of food and other commodities. Drawing on petitions, newspaper articles, and official correspondences, I show how landlords and tenants characterized each other as they demanded stringent legislation on renting from the colonial administration. The opinions and counter-arguments for rent control illuminate how homeowners and their tenants contested the organization of private housing and the tactics that they adopted to deal with the economic conditions. Focusing on the conflicts over housing shows the spatial practices that existed among urban dwellers. 

Xolile Madinda UVa Residency

November 05, 2018

Xolile (‘X') Madinda is a hip-hop artist, social activist, community educator and entrepreneur based in Grahamstown/ Makhanda in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. A fiercely talented artist and rapper, X - together with Mxolisi Bodla (aka Biz) - is one of the founding members of Defboyz, one of the most influential hip hop groups in the Eastern Cape. Biz and X combine hip hop, poetry and beats with social messages and community activism to forge social cohesion. X is also one of the founding members of the Youth Art group Fingo Revolutionary Movement and Fingo Festival, a week-long annual event now in its ninth year and part of the National Arts Festival . X programmes and organizes an ambitious roster of artists and speakers, blending cutting-edge South African DJs, beats and rhymes with discussions, live art, lectures and children’s activities. 

Sound curator and ethnomusicologist Noel Lobley has been collaborating with X for more than a decade, and in August they co-hosted a live event in the Black Power Station, titled 'Graham's Legacy, Makhanda's Future'.  X's residency will build on long-term collaborative projects between South Africa and UVA.

Urban Mobility, Urban Aspirations: Views from Africa

October 05, 2018

The AUHL hosted three scholars of urban Africa working at the interface of transportation, cultural change and economic mobility and technology:  Jennifer Hart from Wayne State University, Brad Weiss from William and Mary, and Joshua Grace from the University of South Carolina.  

Reworking Make + Shift Urbanities: Tales from Jakarta and Hyderabad

April 16, 2018

AbdouMaliq Simone delivered the Jame A.D. Cox Lecture at the UVA School of Architecture.  He also held a workshop with students to discuss his recent book with Edgar Pierterse, New Urban Worlds: Inhabiting Dissonant Times (Polity Press, 2017)

Collaborative Engagements Symposium

April 19, 2018

Collaborative research has the potential to transform both the epistemologies, ethics, and material effects of scholarly practice in Africa.  While scholars in some disciplines have long engaged in acknowledged and unacknowledged forms of collaboration in Africa, the various ethical and epistemological stakes of such engagements merit further reflection and clarification.  For example, while collaborative partnerships involving African scholars, practitioners, and community members have the potential to reprioritize local concerns, concepts, and ways of knowing; they may also be fraught with complex power dynamics that need to be thoughtfully addressed.


This innovative workshop will bring together researchers, scholars, students, musicians, government workers, and development practitioners from Africa and the University of Virginia who are presently in the midst of long-term sustained collaborations with one another.   Over the course of the workshop this diverse group will come together in a series of public conversations to discuss the state of collaborative research in Africa.


This workshop comes at a time when the language of “partnership” is becoming increasingly central to the institutional politics of American and African universities and development agencies alike.  While such arrangements can replicate the extractive political-economy of the colonial period, this workshop will provide a space to engage in the historical, reflexive, and creative work necessary to consider how partnerships within and outside of university contexts might become spaces for new forms of scholarship which are both just and generative.

Noel Lobley Talk "Collaborative Sound Curation: Ethnography, Art and Practice in South Africa's Eastern Cape"

March 30, 2018

Ethnomusicologist, sound curator and artist Noel Lobley has been working with the International Library of African Music (ILAM) and collaborating with South African artists,  scholars and community members for more than a decade. In this talk he shared insights from a recent fieldwork trip in Summer 2017, including developing plans for long term collaborative relationships between ILAM and UVa.

Jesse Weaver Shipley Visit and Workshop

February 14, 2018

Jesse Weaver Shipley is Professor of African American Studies at Dartmouth. His is an ethnographer, film maker, and artist. His work explores the intersections of aesthetics, politics and youth culture in urban settings. He has conducted fieldwork in Ghana, South Africa, Britain and the United States. Notable among his many works is his film, Living the Hip Life, an ethnographic documentary on the history of Hip Hop Music in Ghana, and his book by the same title (for details visit He is currently working on films and books on female boxers in Africa and the diaspora, and what he calls the aesthetics of sovereignty. The latter project focuses on two coups d’états in Ghana (1979 and 1981), through engagements with diverse archives and images, and in the words and memories of key Ghanaian political actors, including former president Jerry Rawlings.


Jesse Weaver Shipley’s visit was truly eventful. He began his visit with a screening of Living the Hip Life for students from two courses: MUSI 2070 -- Popular Musics and ANTH 2625 – Imagining Africa. The next day he gave a guest lecture in Imagining Africa, in which he shared and discussed footage that he shot of Nigerian boxer, Helen Joseph. In the course of the discussion he addressed the processes of negotiation involved in representing people through media, the gendered inequalities of professional boxing, and related this new material to his earlier work on Hip Hop and urban space. He also invited students to ask questions and discuss their own impressions of the footage in relation to the larger themes of the course. The same day he gave a public talk entitledIntellectual Uprising: Pan-Africanism and Political Transformation in 1970s Ghana, co-sponsored by the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies. Finally, he convened a production workshop, in which he invited graduate students from Music and Anthropology to work on footage from his film in progress on memory and aesthetics of politics in Ghana.

Student comments!


Jesse Weaver Shipley's workshop gave me a fresh insight into the exciting new world of audio-visual ethnography. It was thrilling to get a sneak preview of his work in progress; seeing world-class ethnography in the making is a rare privilege for a graduate student. Jesse was very generous in sharing his latest field recordings with us, and actually allowing us to get hands on with that material was a whole other level of professor-graduate interaction. Tim Booth, PhD Student, Department of Music


Jesse Weaver Shipley was kind enough to offer us an interactive look into one of his projects currently in progress and we were able to work with unedited footage and music samples to create our own short narratives. Being able to collaborate cross-disciplinarily with anthropologists and ethnomusicologists provided a welcome variety of perspective that enriched my understanding of storytelling through a coalescence of video, music, and dance. As a current student, I am always appreciative of senior scholars’ willingness to share what work looks like in progress because we are so consistently shown polished, finished products without seeing their cross-sections. Seeing the thought process and methodology that goes into collaborative storytelling and ethnography, especially in my own field site, provided me with another possible set of tools to explore in my own work. Grace East, PhD Student, Department of Anthropology

Virginia Film Festival: AUHL Hosts Two African Film Makers

November 09, 2017

The AUHL hosted two filmmakers from Kenya, Hussein Kurji and Salim Keshavjee and moderated a viewing of their mockumentary The Samaritans.   We also hosted a viewing of Green White Green, a film by the Nigerian filmmaker Abba Makama.  Mr. Makama will hopefully be coming to UVA in the Spring to participate in the course "Imagining Africa." 

Remapping the Urban: Everyday Practice of Adaptation and the Politics of Presence

October 20, 2017

A daylong workshop organized by Professor Sheila Crane of the Department of Architectural History at UVA.  The workshop featured three fantastic speakers who work on Cape Town & Johannesburg, Zanzibar, and Casablanca will be presenting new work examining the apartheid/post-apartheid city,  post-revolutionary urban representations, and urban artistic interventions.


The workshop was co-sponsored by the African Urbanism Humanities Lab, the Global South Humanities Lab, and the Institute for Humanities & Global Cultures.  

Welcome Dinner for Mandela Washington Fellows

June 18, 2017

The University of Virginia as part of the Presidential Precinct has hosted 25 young African leaders in the United States as part of a leadership program called the "Mandela Washington Fellowship Program."  This year we have fellows from 18 different countries.  They are working on diverse issues including transitional justice, anti-corruption campaigns, LGBT rights, youth empowerment, health care, anti-radicalization, and women's leadership.  

The African Urbanism Humanities Lab hosted the fellows for a Welcome Dinner in Wilson Hall.  Members of the community, including the Charlottesville-Winnebah Foundation, Charlottesville City Council, and students from UVA, shared a great meal and got to know each other on Sunday, June 18.


Karibuni kwetu watu wote!

Concrete Aspiration and the Stuff of Transformation in a Mozambican Suburb

March 23, 2017

Julie Archambault is an assistant professor in the department of anthropology and sociology at Concordia University in Montreal.  Her research takes us to Inhambane, a small provincial capital of just over 50,000 inhabitants Mozambique which she has now been visiting for nearly 20 years.  Through a series of projects, she has studied the social and cultural implications of cellphone technologies, urban flower gardens, informal brickmaking, and the emergence of new forms of fitness and exercise. 


Her most recent book Mobile Secrets: Youth, Intimacy, and the Politics of Pretense in Mozambique explores the new forms of display, and more importantly discretion, enabled by the rapid uptake of cell phones.


On March 23rd, 2017, Prof. Archambault visited the African Urbanism Humanities Lab to present a talk entitled. Concrete Aspiration and the Stuff of Transformation in a Mozambican Suburb.  Sub-Saharan Africa has been called ‘the last cement frontier’ and has the fastest growing cement consumption rate in the world.   But rather than taking the stacks of concrete blocks stacked in the peri-urban suburbs of Mozambique as a simple fact of modernization, Archambault argued that concrete itself is an affectively charged material capable of transforming builders social and material aspirations. 


During her time at UVa Prof. Archambault also made a presentation based on Mobile Secrets to local high school students as part of UVa’s Africa Day outreach event. 

Decolonizing African Urban Spaces with Digital Media

April 06, 2017

Ademide Adelusi-Adeluyi is a historian at UC-Riverside. She is currently also a fellow at the Rice University’s Humanities Research Center. Her research project, Mapping the Constant City, revolves around developing a digital cartographic data base of Lagos, derived in part from colonial maps, dating back to the late 18th century. She combines digital technology and urban history to reveal and revitalize indigenous urban lifeworlds, historically overshadowed by imperial mapping project.


Ademide Adelusi-Adeluyi’s visit to UVA was co-sponsored by the African Urbanism Humanities Lab, the Global South Humanities Lab, the Institute for Humanities and Global Culture, and the Carter Woodson Institute. In the course of her visit Dr. Ademide-Adeluyi gave a talk in the African Urbanism Humanities Lab, co-sponsored by the Carter Woodson African Studies Colloquium. She also conducted a workshop on digital visualization for students in the Global South Humanities Lab, and participated in the symposium: Beyond Representation: Creative & Critical Practice in the Environmental Humanities,


Her talk in African Urbanism Humanities Lab took place on April 6th, and was entitled Historical Tours of “New” Lagos. Performance, Place Making & Cartography in the Nineteenth Century. In it she discussed two mapping projects, which occurred during the 1880s. The first was an official survey, commissioned for display in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. The second was a procession of the Methodist Mission, intended to displace “ignorance and superstition” from the putatively modern urban spaces of colonial Lagos. Between these two experiences, she argued, is a narrative of an indigenous city, still vibrant in spite of discourses and practices that tried to erase it. Engaging the spaces where the maps and procession intersected, she demonstrated that their performances of a modern could not completely erase Lagos’ indigenous past. She showed how creating new maps of “old Lagos” using ArcGIS and Illustrator, can help to illustrates what was at stake for indigenous spatial patterns in the process of imagining Lagos as a city that was modern, colonial and Christian.  This talk was also part of the African Cities Pavilion Seminar<

Smart City Africa: Understanding Konza TechnoCity

October 14, 2016

The AUHL hosted the Director of Infrastructure for Konza TechnoCity, Mr. Patrick Adolwa, on October 14, 2016.  He is a colleague of Prof. Bassett’s from Kenya who has had a long career in urban planning at the municipal and national level.  He spoke about the challenges and opportunities of creating a city from scratch.

Konza is a project of the Government of Kenya; it is considered a “flagship” project integral to achieving the country’s national development goals laid out in Kenya Vision 2030.  The basic idea behind the city is to capitalize on Kenya’s leading role in ICT in the East African Region.  The location, Konza, is about 60 KM southeast of Nairobi along the Mombasa highway.  The initial development is taking place on a 5,000-acre parcel of land.  The city is being developed by a consortium of government, private sector and some non-profit partners.  The idea is to build a city that will enable tech industry location/expansion and local entrepreneurialism, supported by educational training institutions.  The aim is the development of “the silicon savannah.”


The evolving vision for the city is on view in two small films at and at .  The first film shows the current vision; the second is older and shows the first imagining when it was under the purview of the Ministry of Information—it was thrown out.  But for students of planning the older vision will seem familiar—Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City revisited!

The building of new towns like this is controversial.  Kenya is not the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa undertaking such projects.  A key critic of this work is Vanessa Watson from the University of Cape Town, who argue that these prestige projects are misguided given the challenges facing the existing cities on the continent relative to service provision, housing and infrastructure.  Due to the wonders of YouTube you can hear her perspective at sponsored by the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, University of Oxford

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