Rhiannon Stephens

Rhiannon Stephens

Research Interest


Rhiannon Stephens, Associate Professor, specializes in the history of precolonial and early colonial East Africa from the late first millennium CE through the twentieth century. Her first monograph, A History of African Motherhood: The Case of Uganda, 700-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 2013), traced the history of marriage as a social institution and an ideology across over a millennium of Ugandan political, economic and social change. She is currently working on a second monograph that is a history of poverty and wealth as economic and social concepts in eastern Uganda over the past thousand years. She is the co-editor of Doing Conceptual History in Africa (Berghahn Books, 2016), which critically examines what it means to write conceptual history on the continent. Her areas of specialization include the intersection of gender with social and political organization; popular conceptualizations of poverty and wealth; and cultural and linguistic exchange in multilingual settings. She draws on a range of methodological and interdisciplinary approaches to write longue durée history of oral societies, including comparative historical linguistics, comparative ethnography, analysis of oral traditions and archaeological evidence as well as more conventional archival research.

Rhiannon Stephens is currently the co-organizer (with Caterina Pizzigoni, Zoë Crossland and Severin Fowles) of the ISERP-funded workshop Undocumented StoriesWriting Africa and the Americas Across the Disciplines, which brings together scholars interested in reconstructing the history and experiences of people in Africa and the Americas (with a special focus on indigenous communities) in contexts of limited or non-existent contemporaneous documentation using methodologies from a range of disciplines. For more information please see:


  • C1020 African Civilization
  • UN2764 East African History
  • UN3789 Histories of Poverty in Africa
  • UG4769 History of Health and Healing in Africa
  • GR8760 Precolonial African Historiography
  • GR8770 Household and Family in African History


  • Heyman Center Fellowship, The Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Columbia University, 2016-17
  • Honorable Mention, African Studies Association Bethwell A. Ogot Prize for the best book on East African Studies, for A History of African Motherhood: The Case of Uganda, 700-1900, 2014
  • MacDonald Summer Fellow, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University
  • Past and Present Society Post-doctoral research fellowship, 2008-09
  • Presidential Society of Fellows, Northwestern University, 2005-07
  • Research Year Fellowship, Northwestern University, 2004-05
  • Teaching Fellowship, Northwestern University, 2002-04
  • Graduate School Fellowship, Northwestern University, 2001-02
  • Graduate Attachment, British Institute in Eastern Africa, Nairobi, 2000


  • Faculty Fellow, Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University
  • Member, African Studies Association
  • Member, American Historical Association
  • Member, British Institute in Eastern Africa
  • Institute of African Studies, Columbia University



A History of African Motherhood: The Case of Uganda, 700-1900, (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Co-edited with Axel Fleisch, Doing Conceptual History in Africa, (Berghan Books, 2016)

Scholarly Articles

"'Whether They Promised Each Other Some Thing Is Difficult to Work Out': The Complicated History of Marriage in Uganda," African Studies Review 59, no. 1 (2016): 127-153.

“The Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa,” in Oxford Bibliographies in African Studies, ed. Thomas Spear (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)

"Birthing Wealth? Motherhood and Poverty in East-Central Uganda, 700-1900," Past and Present 215 (May 2012): 235-268.

"Introduction: New Themes in Ugandan History," Journal of Eastern African Studies 6, no. 3 (2012): 487-489.

"Lineage and Society in Precolonial Uganda," Journal of African History 50, 2 (2009): 203-21.

“East Africa, 1500-1900,” in Encyclopedia of Women in World History, ed. Bonnie G. Smith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 122-126.