tags: Top Young Historians
Caroline Elkins, 37
Teaching Position: Hugo K. Foster Associate Professor of African Studies, Department of History, Harvard University, July 2005 to present.
Assistant Professor, Department of History, Harvard University, July 2001 to July 2005.
Area of Research: Modern Africa, including human rights and British colonial violence.
Education: Ph. D. History, Harvard University, June 2001.
Major Publications: Elkins is the author of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya (New York: Henry Holt, 2005). This book was simultaneously published in Britain and the Commonwealth by Jonathan Cape under the title Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya; Elkins is the co-editor of Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century: Projects, Practices, Legacies, with Susan Pedersen (New York: Routledge, 2005). Elikins is currently working on a book project entitled Twilight: The Decline and Fall of the British Empire that will re-examine the end British colonial rule during the years after World War Two. The research combines archival and oral data in order to integrate perspectives from the metropole and the colonies, and focuses primarily on the nature of British colonialism and the violence and human rights abuses that accompanied retreat.
Awards: Elkins is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including:
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, 2006;
Walter Channing Cabot Fellow, Harvard University, 2005-06;
Gelber Prizer for Non-Fiction, Finalist, 2006;
The Economist, Best History Book Selection for Imperial Reckoning, 2005;
The New York Times, Editors' Choice, Imperial Reckoning, 2005;
The Daily Telegraph, Editor's Choice, Paperback, Britain's Gulag, 2005;
Phi Beta Kappa, Honorary Member, Harvard University Chapter, June 2006;
Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Fellowship, 2006-07;
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Faculty Research Leave Fellowship, spring 2005;
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Bunting Fellow, 2003-04;
J. William Fulbright Fellowship for Kenya (IIE), 1998-1999;
Social Science Research Council, International Dissertation Research Fellowship, 1998-1999;
Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship, 1997-1998;
Krupp Foundation Fellowship in European Studies, 1997-1998;
Harvard University Derek Bok Award for Teaching Excellence, 1996-1997 and 2000-01;
Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship, Intensive Swahili III, 1995;
Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, 1994-1995.
Elkins has appeared on a number of television news media shows including; ABC, Radio Australia; Charlie Rose Show, PBS; Tavis Smiley Show, PBS; Here and Now, NPR, "Imperial Reckoning," Talk of the Nation, NPR, "Pulitzer Winners Describe that Winning Feeling;" Morning Edition, NPR, "Kenya's Mau Maus Seek Restitution;" BBC World, "Imperial Reckoning;" Here and Now, NPR, "Imperial Reckoning;" BBC, Radio Four, "The Mau Mau Rebellion;" BBC, Five Live; All Things Considered, NPR, "Author Details Harsh British Rule in Kenya."
Elkins's research on detention camps and villagization during the Mau Mau Emergency was the subject of a one-hour film on the BBC, "Kenya: White Terror." Elkins was a feature of the documentary, as well as a consultant to the project. The documentary was filmed in Kenya and Britain, September/October 2002. It was aired in Britain on 17 November 2002 to an audience of some 1.5 million viewers. It has subsequently been aired on BBC Worldwide several times. It won the International Committee on the Red Cross Award at the Monte Carlos Film Festival in June 2003.
Founder and Co-director, Kenya Oral History Centre, Nairobi, Kenya. Directing a project aimed at the collection of several thousand life histories of Africans from various ethnic groups who lived through the colonial experience in Kenya. The Center is modeled on similar projects in South Africa and post-WWII Germany, though it is the first of its kind in Kenya. Nearly $100,000 of funding has been drawn primarily from the Kenya Government, Harvard University, Ford Foundation, and the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
Editorial Board Member, Princeton University Press Series, "Crimes Against Humanity," August 2005 to present.
It was September 2003 and I still remember the feeling of opening my office door for the first time at the Radcliffe Institute where I was beginning my fellowship year. I practically dropped to my knees and wept. The room was spacious with sun streaming in and had an enormous desk with a computer that was the latest in technology. But, those weren't the reason for my out-of-character moment of emotion. The office was, to take off from someone else's words, a room of my own. It was away from the teaching and administrative distractions of my department office, and away from the lovable chaos generated by my two young sons, then one and three, at home. When I shut my Radcliffe door, I was alone, joyfully alone with my ideas and my writing.
And, it was at Radcliffe that I immersed myself in routine. When I write I love routine. I would come at almost precisely the same time day in and day out and leave at the same time. After I put my children to bed, I did the same thing in the evening; on the weekends the same thing. I had a story to tell, and like some athletes, when I'm in my routine, or game, I feel as if I'm in the "zone." It's as if I can hear or think of nothing else; instead, I can almost see the words and story in my mind before they unfold on the computer screen. Routine also has other implications. I don't answer the phone (except for the emergency cell phone number which is given to my sons' schools), I occasionally answer email, I almost never accept lunch or coffee invitations, I eat the same thing for lunch at my desk (with Imperial Reckoning it was butternut squash soup from Hi-Rise Bakery with a hunk of bread and loads of butter), I wear virtually the same clothes every day, I get my mid-morning and late afternoon coffee at the same time - the list could go on and on. Some might call this compulsive. I like to think of myself as focused!
Of course, I had every reason to keep my eye on the ball during my time at Radcliffe. I was up for my first review at the end of the academic year, and I had to finish my manuscript. I had also agreed with my publisher to deliver the draft by May of 2004. In other words, the whole book had to be written from start to finish during my year of leave. But, I suspect, with or without these deadlines I would have written the book at the same pace. For me, once I sit down to write I can't stop. I become so utterly focused that it is simply better for everyone around me to let me finish rather than to drag it out. In the case of writing Imperial Reckoning, it meant making up a lot of time with my family once the book was finished. Fortunately, the writing projects I've taken on since then have been smaller - articles, book reviews, and short essays - so I'm cloistered less often in my own world. That said, whether the project is big or small, I'm ruthless with my routine, and, gratefully, I've adjusted to thinking and writing without a room of my own.
By Caroline Elkins
About Caroline Elkins
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