Indian Ocean Epistemologies

This project proposes a collaboration to oversee the publication of a translation into English of Davidson Don Tengu Jabavu’s isiXhosa travelogue to India; and a special issue of the journal Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies on Indian Ocean epistemologies. The travelogue and the scholarly articles will become a resource for a new critical theory course on Indian Ocean epistemologies to be developed by Evan Mwangi (Northwestern) and Tina Steiner (Stellenbosch). The project also includes a Mellon Fellowship-supported graduate student exchange, in which a South Africa-based graduate fellow will be awarded a half-year visiting residency at Northwestern to perform research toward the project's course development.


Tina Steiner is Associate Professor of English at Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, South Africa. She is the author of Translated People, Translated Text: Language and Migration in Contemporary African Literature (2009), as well as articles and chapters on Leila Aboulela, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Jamal Mahjoub, Sophia Mustafa, Ishtiyaq Shukri, and M.G. Vassanji. Her research and teaching focus on African and Asian literature, migration, and translation.

Evan Mwangi is Associate Professor of Egnlish and Comparative Literature at Northwestern University, where he also teaches in the Program of African Studies. He is the author of Africa Writes Back to Self: Metafiction, Gender, Sexuality (2009) and of a forthcoming monograph on gender and translation in African literature. He has published on postcolonial artists and intellectuals including Nazizi Hirji, Chinua Achebe, K. Sello Duiker, Amandina Lihamba, and Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

Serah Namulisa Kasembeli is the first Andrew W. Mellon International Predoctoral Fellow, and she will spend the Fall 2017 and Winter 2018 quarters at Northwestern.

Serah Kasembeli

Serah is an English Studies PhD student at Stellenbosch University (South Africa), interested in Indian Ocean slavery. Her dissertation focuses on the haunting trope resultant from repressed slave historical pasts. She reads the concepts of the archive, memory, trauma and hauntology in post-apartheid literature as an embodiment of a silenced history of slavery in the post-apartheid nation.

Her master’s thesis in Literature (University of Nairobi) raised awareness to the subjectivity of girls from a slum area in Nairobi to the access of secondary school education through the scripting of the play Water but Wine.

Background Reading:

Steiner, Tina. "The Indian Ocean Travels of Sheik Yusuf and Imam Ali Ali: Literary Representations in Ishtiyaq Shukri's The Silent Minaret and Achmat Dangor's Bitter Fruit." Social Dynamics 38, no. 2 (2012): 172-183.

Steiner, Tina. "Navigating Multilingually: The Chronotope of the Ship in Contemporary East African Fiction." English Studies in Africa 51, no. 2 (2008): 49-58.

Mwangi, Evan Maina. “Gendered Theoretical Recalibrations.” In Mwangi, Africa Writes Back to Self: Metafiction, Gender, Sexuality, 235-254. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2009.


  • January 18, 2018 | Northwestern
    Serah Kasembeli, together with Northwestern doctoral students, has convened a reading group on Indian Ocean Epistemologies:

    Linking Southern and East Africa with the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent, and South-east Asia, the Indian Ocean has a long history of circulation of people, objects, and ideas across changing geo-political frontiers. This reading group intends to introduce us to what it means to think Indian Ocean Epistemologies as a site of theorizing from the Global South. We will explore the ideas, histories, and processes of transnationalism and globalisation, with the intention to engage the silences of the Indian Ocean as a way to understand decolonisation in the Global South. How do we theorize transnationalism within the south itself? What of non-western sources of globalisation, or processes of transnationalism that happen without reference to Europe?

    We invite you for our first reading group in the Winter Quarter to read:

    Markus Vink, "Indian Ocean Studies and the 'New Thalassology'"

    Gabeba Baderoon, "Introduction," Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Post-Apartheid.

    Nile Green, "Africa in Indian Ink: Urdu Articulations of Indian Settlement in East Africa"

    Date: Thursday 1/18/2018
    Time:  3-5pm
    Venue: CLS seminar room (Kresge 5-531)

    If you are interested in attending and would like to get the readings, contact:
    Serah Kasembeli, (Visiting Pre-Doctoral Mellon Fellow from Stellenbosch University)
    or Kritish Rajbhandari (Northwestern Doctoral Student working on Indian Ocean Studies)

  • November 11-13 | Northwestern
    Professor Mwangi participated in Transformations of Critical Theory, the inaugural workshop of the Critical Theory in the Global South Project. On November 13, Professor Mwangi, together with Professor Marisa Belausteguigoitia of Universidad Nacional Autonómia de México and "The University and Its Publics: North, South, and in Between" project, chaired a teach-in for graduate students on the theme "The Transnational Routes of Gender: Global South Reading Strategies and Critique in Feminist Theory."

  • September, 2017 | Northwestern
    Serah Kasembeli is now in residence and copy editing the Jabavu travelogue as well as attending classes. Welcome, Serah!

  • July, 2017
    Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies special issue on Indian Ocean Epistemologies call for papers:

March 15-24, 2017 | Stellenbosch, South Africa
Professor Mwangi visited Stellenbosch to initiate the Mellon collaboration with Professor Steiner

Mwangi poster