James Brennan

Dr. James Brennan


  • Fulbright visiting professor (Research project: “African Informants, Czechoslovak State Security, and Decolonization in East Africa, 1960-1975“)

Research Interests:

  • African History (20th century)
  • History of intelligence and the Cold War
  • History of global media
  • History of Indian Ocean


Academic Posts

  • Since 08/2013 Associate Professor of History, University of Illinois
  • 08/2008 – 08/2013 Assistant Professor of History, University of Illinois
  • 09/2003 – 08/2013 Lecturer in African History, SOAS, University of London


  • 06/2003: PhD in African History, Northwestern University
  • 05/1994: MA in History, University of Alabama
  • 05/1991: BA in History and Political Science, University of Illinois


  • 02/2022 – 06/2022: US Fulbright Scholar, Charles University, Prague
  • 12/2005:  Visiting Research Fellow, Zentrum Moderner Orient (Berlin)
  • 09/1997 – 08/1998: Fulbright IIE Research Fellowship in Tanzania (University of Dar es Salaam

International Conferences & Invited Lectures

  • „Spy Hunting in the Archives: Decolonization, African Studies Politics and MI5 in London, 1956-1965,” presentation given to North American Society for Intelligence History Brown Bag, 6 April 2021
  • “Networkers and Gatekeepers: an outline history of the OAU African Liberation Committee, 1963-1970,” paper delivered at the 7th biennial European Conference on African Studies (ECAS2019), University of Edinburgh, 13 June 2019
  • “Domesticating Intelligence in Tanzania: an agent-based approach, 1954-74,” paper delivered at workshop entitled “The Secret Struggle for the Global South”, University of Warwick, 13 September 2018
  • “A history of radio listening in Tanzania, 1935-1965,” paper presented at workshop “Connecting the Wireless World: Global Radio History,” University of Denver, 28 June 2018
  • “‘Our eyes sparkle now and they can see’: self-improvement, political consciousness and social engineering in Tanzania’s adult literacy campaigns of the 1970s,” paper delivered at conference entitled “Decolonization(s) and Education: New Men and New Polities”, Humboldt University, Berlin, 27 November 2015
  • “Decolonization and its counterfactuals: narratives of liberation and treason in Tanzania and its neighboring states,” paper delivered at the Colonialism and Post-Colonialism in Contemporary Era seminar, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas (FCSH), Universidade Nova de Lisboa, 6 July 2015
  • “Artisan Newspapers in the Age of Nationalism: R. M. Plantan’s Zuhra in Late Colonial Tanganyika, 1947-60,” paper delivered at the African Studies Association United Kingdom Biannual Conference, University of Sussex, 9 September 2014
  • “Debating the guidelines: literacy, text, and Socratic socialism in 1970s Tanzania,” paper delivered at the African Studies Workshop, University of Chicago, 6 May 2014
  • “The business of international news in the Anglo-American World, 1840-1920,” paper delivered at workshop entitled “The Political Economy of News in Anglo-American History”, Reuters Institute, University of Oxford, organized by Richard John and Jonathan Silberstein-Loeb, 30 August 2013
  • Keynote address entitled “Desire, Rents, & Entitlements: possible futures for Africa’s urban history,” given at the 5th symposium of the Ghent Africa Platform, with the theme “Urban Africa: multidisciplinary approaches to the African city”, 2 December 2011
  • “Money, mobility and citizenship in coastal East Africa,” paper presented at Fourth European Conference on African Studies, held at Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden, 15 June 2011
  • “Information prices and propaganda values: Reuters, BBC, and the news business in 1960s East Africa,” paper presented at Center for International History, Columbia University, 25 March 2011
  • “Sovereignty and propaganda: coping with anti-colonial shortwave radio in British East Africa, 1940-1965,” paper presented at International History Workshop, University of Konstanz, 02 June 2009
  • “TANU Youth League, and Managed Vigilantism in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 1925-1973,” paper delivered at conference “Youth in Eastern Africa: Past and Present Perspectives,” co-hosted by the British Institute in Eastern Africa/Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique, Nyeri, Kenya, 29 June 2006

Research Grants

  • 12/2013: Moody Research Grant, LBJ Presidential Library, Austin TX
  • 08/2012 – 05/2015: Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship, American Council of Learned Societies
  • 08/2011 – 05/2012: Arnold O. Beckman Research Board Grant, University of Illinois
  • 03/2006 – 08/2007: British Academy Small Research Grant (SG-41863)
  • 05/2005: British Academy Overseas Travel Grant (OCG-40431), May 2005

Main Publications


  • Taifa: Making Nation and Race in Urban Tanzania. Athens OH: Ohio University Press (New African Histories Series), 2012 [winner of the 2013 Bethwell A. Ogot Book Prize, African Studies Association].

Edited Volumes, Journals, Book Series

  • Journal of Eastern African Studies. Editor, 01/2012 – 03/2021
  • Dar es Salaam: Histories from an emerging African metropolis (Dar es Salaam/Nairobi: Mkuki na Nyota/BIEA, 2007), co-edited with Andrew Burton and Lawi Yusuf

Selected Articles & Book Chapters

  • „Print Culture, Islam and the Politics of Caution in Late Colonial Dar es Salaam: A History of Ramadhan Machado Plantan’s Zuhra, 1947–1960,” Islamic Africa 12:1 (2022), forthcoming
  • “The Secret Lives of Dennis Phombeah: Decolonization, the Cold War, and African Political Intelligence, 1953-1974,” International History Review 43:1 (2021), 153-169.
  • “International News in the Age of Empire,” in Richard R. John and Jonathan Silberstein-Loeb (eds.), Making News: The Political Economy of Journalism in Britain and America from the Glorious Revolution to the Internet (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 107-132
  • “The Cold War battle over global news in East Africa: decolonization, the free flow of information and the media business, 1960-1980,” Journal of Global History 10:2 (2015), 333-356
  • “Radio Cairo and the Decolonization of East Africa, 1953-1964,” in Christopher J. Lee (ed.), Making a World after Empire: The Bandung Moment and Its Political Afterlives (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 173-195
  • “Lowering the Sultan’s Flag: Sovereignty and Decolonization in Coastal Kenya,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 50:4 (2008), 831-861
  • “Blood enemies: exploitation and urban citizenship in the nationalist political thought of Tanzania, 1958-1975,” Journal of African History 47:3 (2006), 387-411
  • “Youth, the TANU Youth League, and Managed Vigilantism in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 1925-1973,” Africa: Journal of the International Africa Institute 76:2 (2006), 221-246.
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