An assistant professor of history at Harvard University, Caroline Elkins studies the colonial encounter in Africa during the twentieth century. Her work draws on a variety of different sources—including extensive oral testimonies, archival evidence, and personal accounts—to rethink our understanding of the late colonial period in Africa, particularly in those colonies that had a settler presence.
Elkins will use her fellowship year at Radcliffe to complete her book on the British system of detention and forced “villagization” in Kenya during the Mau Mau Emergency. She will examine the origins and escalation of British colonial violence, the nature of the camp experience, and the impact of detention upon the Kikuyu population and the Kenyan nation as a whole. In arguing against the accepted view that detention in Kenya was a moment for British liberal reform, Elkins reexamines Britain’s civilizing mission and suggests that the postwar period in Kenya was one of violence and brutality rather than one of gradual liberalization.
Elkins earned her AB in history from Princeton University and her PhD in history from Harvard University. She has received grant awards from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Fulbright-Hayes, and the Social Science Research Council. She has also worked with the BBC to produce a documentary on her research into the detention camps in Kenya. The documentary recently won the International Red Cross Award at the Monte Carlo Film Festival.