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BA, MPhil, PhD (Cantab)
Gerard McCann is a Lecturer in Modern History. He works on African, South Asian, transnational and global history. He is particularly interested in relations between Africa and India in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This research encompasses themes of diasporic connection across the Indian Ocean; the social, cultural, economic and political lives of Indian communities in eastern and southern Africa; decolonization in Asia and Africa; post-colonial East African nation-building and political economy; as well as Africa’s interactions with India and other Asian ‘rising powers’ today. Recent work has focused on contemporary India-Africa relations, while a current monograph project looks at broader Indian presence in Africa since the late nineteenth century. He also continues to pursue his doctoral work on histories of the Sikh diaspora, especially in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as the social history and politics of East Africa (particularly Kenya) since the 1930s.
More recently, he has begun to research and teach on Africa's international relations since the 1950s and is developing broader research ideas on the origins of the 'global south' (on which he teaches at MA level). This work focuses specifically on the role of African and Indian agents in shaping the possibilities (and limitations) of developing world cooperation since the 1950s. He is interested here, amongst other things, in the influence of Nehruvian liberal internationalism, pan-Africanist discourses and the neoliberal turn in moulding concepts of thirdworldism and its avatars.
In research and teaching, he is engaged with the emerging field of transnational history (particularly its diasporic and conceptual dimensions), having held a fellowship in the field at Oxford University. He is interested in the ways in which the transnational has informed global, world and international history in broad terms, and especially in relation to Afro-Asian decolonisation and its aftermath. Immediately prior to arriving at York in October 2010, he was selected to participate in the fifth US National History Centre International Research Seminar on Decolonisation at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC to conduct research on these themes. He also holds the 2012-13 Visiting Scholarship at the World History Centre, University of Pittsburgh.
This interdisciplinary approach has created opportunities to engage with the policy community. For example, he has provided briefings on India as a global power and India-Africa relations at the Open Society Institute, Chatham House, the Spanish government’s 'Casa Africa' and in numerous media interviews. He is also a columnist for www.watershed.com.br, a Brazilian website specializing in contemporary India, China and developing world issues.
Gerard’s research focuses on diaspora, decolonization, ethnicity, political economy, globalization, international relations and development, particularly related to (East) Africa and India, as well as the 'third world' more broadly. He also continues to work on the social, cultural and political history of South Asian communities in East Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as the history of the British Empire and its decline.
His recent work originated in a British Academy-funded fellowship held in the Geography Department at the University of Cambridge on contemporary India-Africa relationships. Two books emerged from the work begun there – a co-edited collection with Pambazuka Press, India in Africa: Changing Geographies of Power and a sole-authored volume in Zed Books’ 'African Arguments' series entitled India and Africa: Old Friends, New Game. Both books aim to reorientate analyses of India’s contemporary relations with Africa, developments that have been relatively overlooked in the context of China’s fascinating new engagements with Africa in the twenty-first century. These books underline the importance of African agency and critical perspectives on a rising India in unpacking issues of trade, investment, development aid, civil society relations and geopolitical change.
The latter book particularly stresses the importance of a critical appreciation of colonial and post-colonial history in explaining the complex political and economic Indo-African partnerships of today. He continues to analyse shifting economic, political and cultural interactions between Africa and India. In this work, he frequently looks at the Indian diaspora in contemporary Africa, notably the ways in which the Indian government has attempted to create conviviality with South Africa’s and East Africa’s Indians since the early 2000s, and how such peoples debate their entrenched African and transnational identities under changing global conditions.
He is currently working on a contracted monograph with Hurst Books (London), provisionally entitled From Littorals to Liberalisation: India and Africa since the nineteenth century. This broad work seeks to outline histories of Indian settlement in eastern and southern Africa and disaggregate resultant African and transnational social histories. It also aims to contribute to revisionist scholarship on the role of India, the Indian Ocean political sphere and ‘Asian Africans’ on the process of decolonization in East Africa and India. Crucially, the second half of the book will also deal with post-colonial East Africa and the place of Indians within its Africanising polities and economies, as well as unpick the histories of Indians within apartheid South Africa and its aftermath. The book will also consider the relations of Africa’s South Asians to India itself since 1947, notably in light of India’s renewed economic and diplomatic interest in Africa in the twenty-first century, themes which will themselves populate the final chapters.
He continues to pursue older research activity in the social and political history of East Africa – for example in work on the origins of trade unionism in Kenya and analyses of the country’s ethnicised political economy. He has also published doctoral work on the Sikh diaspora in East Africa and Southeast Asia, foundations which will form the basis for a future monograph.
A newer strand of research for the medium-term will relate to Africa’s place and agency within developing world activism. He is interested in African participation within collectives such as the Non-Aligned Movement and how third wordlist agitation came to affect the international outlooks of different African nations and regions after independence. This future work seeks to probe Africa’s place within the genealogy of twenty-first century concepts of 'south-south cooperation' and 'the global south'. (In this regard, he is also concerned with India’s leading role within developing world lobbying, not least given India’s self-positioning on the moral high ground of international affairs.)
These burgeneoning research frontiers on Africa’s location within the post-war global order and recent work on contemporary India-Africa international relations is beginning to manifest itself in embryonic interdisciplinary and collaborative ventures. With colleagues at Sheffield and Leeds, he is working on a 2013-15 project entitled Languages of liberation: African political discourse in the wake of the “Arab Spring”, for which he is leading a section on autochthony and political imagination in sub-Saharan Africa. He is also beginning to think about representations of Africa within the developing world, India especially, and what this says about both Indian and African self-imagination.