Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Dr Norman Aselmeyer

Norman Aselmeyer was Joint Junior Research Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies and the German Historical Institute London for 2022-23. 

Norman Aselmeyer is a lecturer in modern history at the University of Bremen. He works at the intersection of African and global history with a regional focus on Eastern and Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean. After studying at the University of Mainz and Peking University, he worked as a research associate and editorial assistant (“Geschichte und Gesellschaft”) at Freie Universität Berlin. He received his PhD in 2022 from the European University Institute in Florence with a thesis on the impact of colonial railway construction in East Africa from an African-centred perspective. Since then, he has been a lecturer in Bremen and working on his second book project, an urban history of anti-colonial protest in Nairobi, Johannesburg, and Kolkata.

The Urban Crucible: Mau Mau and the Protest Phenomenon in Nairobi, 1940s–1960s

During his fellowship at the IAS, Norman looked at the Nairobi side of his project. While the history of anti-colonial activism and resistance in Kenya has been written primarily as the story of the Mau Mau revolutionaries in the countryside, we know little about the urban dimension of the country’s liberation struggle. A study of Nairobi reveals that the Mau Mau movement had an urban background and that Nairobi was one of its strongholds, at times even its strategic centre. More importantly, other anti-colonial activities also proliferated in the city, whose significance has been obscured by the concentration on the militarised resistance of the Mau Mau. Together, they created the tense and contentious atmosphere that made Nairobi a central battleground of political opinion, struggle, and violence at the end of the empire. By focusing on specific neighbourhoods, streets, and buildings in Nairobi, the project sought to help understand the extent to which the process of decolonisation was an urban phenomenon and how urban spaces facilitated or accelerated the gradual demise of colonialism through forms of organisation, solidarity, and protest.