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Dr Keren Weitzberg


Keren Weitzberg received her PhD in History from Stanford University. She has conducted extensive archival research and oral histories in Kenya and the Kenyan/Somali borderlands and has lived, studied, and led study abroad programmes in countries in West, East, Southern, and Northeast Africa. Owing to her use of diverse methodologies and her interest in the ways in which the past and present inform one another, her work sits at the intersection of the disciplines of history and anthropology.

Her specialisations include nationalism in Kenya and Somalia; the history of Muslim societies in East Africa; and the colonial and postcolonial history of Kenya (especially as it relates to the wider Indian Ocean world and the Horn of Africa). Her research addresses themes of borderlands; globalisation; race and ethnicity; alternative sovereignties; migration; pastoralism; diaspora; and Islam and non-secular thought.

Keren has published in the Journal of Northeast African Studies and The Journal of African History. Her first book, We Do Not Have Borders: Greater Somalia and the Predicaments of Belonging in Kenya, was published with Ohio University Press for the New African Histories series in August 2017. 

We Do Not Have Borders asks: Who gets to claim indigenous status? Why did Somalis, who have long lived within the borders of the country, come to be thought of as only questionably indigenous to Kenya? Using oral histories, archival documents, and other written records, We Do Not Have Borders shows how earlier forms of kinship, cosmopolitanism, and nomadic life came to coexist and compete with the modern territorial state. It also examines how Somali and northern Kenyan political thinkers envisioned diverse political futures, which were not always sovereign, territorial, or secular in scope. Challenging the scholarly focus on ethno-nationalism, this book provides unique inroads into debates over globalisation, African sovereignty, the resurgence of religion, and the multiple meanings of being African. It also explores the interrelationship between border crossing, reactionary nativism, and hatred of the internal stranger.

Keren’s next project, tentatively entitled Identity Crisis: A History of ID Cards, Passports, and Biometric Registration in Kenya, will examine the history of Kenyan identification and population registration from 1915 until 2015. It will also trace the pathways between Kenya and the wider Anglo-imperial world, revealing the global nature of many localised struggles over identity documents, fingerprinting, and registration.

Major publications

  • We Do Not Have Borders: Greater Somalia and the Predicaments of Belonging in Kenya (Ohio University Press, 2017)
  • (Forthcoming) Co-author/participant: "AHR Conversation: Walls, Boundaries, and Borders." American Historical Review (2017)
  • "Unaccountable Census: Colonial Enumeration and its Implications for the Somali People of Kenya." The Journal of African History 56, no. 3 (November 2015), 409-428.
  • "Producing History from Elisions, Fragments, and Silences: Public Testimony, the Asiatic Poll-Tax Campaign, and the Isaaq Somali Population of Kenya." Journal of Northeast African Studies 13, no. 2 (2013), 177-206.

For a full list of publications, see Keren's Iris profile.

Grants/projects

Keren completed her dissertation with grants from the Mellon Foundation as well as the Center for African Studies, the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, and the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University. She recently received a thematic research grant from the British Institute in Eastern Africa to begin work on her second project, tentatively entitled Identity Crisis: A Hisotry of ID Cards, Passports, and Biometric Registration in Kenya.

Media appearances

Keren is a contributor to the Washington Post, Africa is a Country, and The Africa Collective.

Teaching