Elisabeth McMahon Associate Professor Department of History Tulane University

Elisabeth McMahon

Associate Professor of History
Hebert 203


Ph.D., Indiana, 2005


Elisbeth McMahon specializes in East African History with a particular focus on slavery, emancipation, identity formation, and gender among the coastal Islamic communities.

Teaching Interests

My teaching interests range widely across the African continent and are deeply connected to my research. I regularly teach the introduction to African history, lecture courses on Southern African history and a History of Development in Africa. Along with seminars on gender in African history and a service learning seminar called Archiving Africa that partners with the Amistad Research Center. I am also currently working on a course on the history of failure. I enrich the classroom experience through the use of a variety of materials, with a strong focus on biography and memoir as a means to bring the emotional lives of Africans into the classroom.


Selected Publications

"Wives or Workers?: : Negotiating the Social Contract between Female Teachers and the Colonial State in Zanzibar"
Co-authored with Dr. Corrie Decker. Journal of Women’s History, forthcoming 2009.

"Rasoah Mutuha, ‘Trophy of Grace’?: A Quaker Woman's Ministry in Colonial Kenya"
Women’s History Review 17(4) 2008, pp.631-51.

"‘A solitary tree builds not’: Heshima, community and shifting identity in post-emancipation Pemba Island"
International Journal of African Historical Studies 39(2) August 2006: 197-219.

"Defining Kinship, Choosing Family in Emancipated Slave Wills in Colonial Zanzibar"
Journal of Social History, 46(4) Summer 2013, pp.916-930

"Slave Wills along the Swahili Coast"
New Documents in Slave Societies, edited by Sandra Greene, Martin Klein, et al. Cambridge University Press, 2013

"Slavery and Emancipation in Islamic East Africa:From Honor to Respectability"
Cambridge University Press, 2013.
amazon link

"Trafficking and Re-enslavement: Social Vulnerability of Women and Children in nineteenth century East Africa"
Trafficking in Slavery’s Wake: Law and the Experience of Women and Children in Africa, edited by Richard Roberts & Benjamin Lawrence. Ohio University Press, 2012.


My first book, Slavery and Emancipation in Islamic East Africa: From Honor to Respectability, uses Qadi and Probate court records on the island of Pemba (off the coast of Tanzania) to explore the gendered social dynamics of emancipation for all strata of society on the island and demonstrates that former slave and free people used the courts as a public space to debate and construct new understandings of respectability, identity and gender roles. I have several current research projects; the first project examines the emotional frameworks of daily life on the Swahili coast during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and a second project looks at the failures and successes of using “model villages” as a development tool across the African continent from 1850 to 2011. I am also working on a short text on the history of development in Africa during the colonial and early postcolonial eras.