Keren Weitzberg is a Lecturer (Teaching) at UCL History and a Visiting Research Fellow at the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies. Keren received her PhD in History from Stanford University. Working at the confluence of science and technology studies (STS), critical race studies, and migration studies, she examines problematics related to biometrics, mobility, and national inclusion. Keren has over a decade of experience carrying out archival research, fieldwork, and oral history in multicultural, multilingual settings in East Africa. She has designed and led study abroad programmes and collaborated with civil society groups, artists, and scholars across the US, UK, continental Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Her work sits at the intersection of the disciplines of history and anthropology.
In recent years, Keren has become increasingly focused on the historical antecedents and socio-political implications of digital technologies, especially biometrics. She is particularly attuned to the impacts of biometric and digital identity systems on migrants, nomadic populations, refugees, and border communities, who have historically struggled to access identity documents. Keren's current project, tentatively entitled Biometrics from the Margins: How Fingerprinting Reshaped Kenya, examines the fraught history of fingerprinting in East Africa. Biometrics from the Margins asks: Can an identification and registration technique long associated with colonial extraction be a means of accelerating political and financial inclusion for the world’s poor, as many proponents suggest? How are those at the physical and metaphorical margins of the nation navigating the new world of digital identity? Supporters argue that digital identity systems will enable African countries to ‘leapfrog’ to new stages of development. This project flips the script by showing that biometrics, though a novel technology, is layered atop an older, analog history.
Keren’s interest in the intersections between migration and identification evolved out of research for her first book: We Do Not Have Borders: Greater Somalia and the Predicaments of Belonging in Kenya, which was published in 2017. We Do Not Have Borders was a finalist for the 2018 African Studies Association Book Prize (Melville J. Herskovits Prize) and was featured in The Washington Post and Quartz Africa. It asks: Why are Somalis widely considered foreign to Kenya despite being among the country’s ‘indigenous’ populations? We Do Not Have Borders shows that Somali and northern Kenyan political thinkers envisioned diverse political futures, which were not always sovereign, territorial, or secular in scope. It also explores the interrelationship between border crossing, reactionary nativism, and hatred of the internal stranger.
- ‘Machine-Readable Refugees.’ London Review of Books (LRB) Blog (14 September 2020).
- ‘Biometrics, Race Making, and White Exceptionalism: The Controversy Over Universal Fingerprinting in Post-World War II Kenya.’ The Journal of African History (March 2020): 23-43.
- We Do Not Have Borders: Greater Somalia and the Predicaments of Belonging in Kenya (Ohio University Press, 2017)
- 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.
- 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.
- Keren's current project, ‘Biometrics from the Margins’ is funded by a 2019-20 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellowship, a 2019-20 Fulbright US Scholar award, a 2018 BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant, and a 2017 thematic research grant from the British Institute in Eastern Africa. She has also received funding from the Alan Turing Institute to work on interrelated research.
- Keren was awarded grants from Privacy International and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)/Facebook to conduct research into ethics and AI in Kenya. She is also part of the UKRI GCRF Digital Innovation for Development in Africa (DIDA) research network.
- With funding from the UCL Trellis: Public Art Programme and Arts Council England, Keren is currently working on a public art project with the London-based filmmaker and artist Edwin Mingard.
- In 2019, Keren co-organized a workshop at the IAS called ‘Bridging the Divide Between African Diaspora Studies and African Studies’ with funding from the UCL Global Engagement Office.
Keren’s research has been featured in The New York Times, BBC World Service, Quartz Africa, and The Washington Post. She has written for Coda Story, the Mail & Guardian, The Conversation, Africa is a Country, The Washington Post, and the London Review of Books.
- Advanced Skills, Concepts, and Theory for MA Historians (MA core module)
- Writing History (first-year undergraduate core module)
- Race, Ethnicity, and the "Other" in Africa (second- and third-year undergraduate advanced seminar module)
- Africa, Decolonization, and Internationalism (second- and third-year thematic module)