About our staff
Dr Thomas Cunningham
MA (St Andrews), MSc (Edinburgh), PhD (Edinburgh)
ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow; Social and cultural history of colonial Africa
Other affiliated schools
Affiliated research centres
I studied Modern History at the University of St Andrews where I received a grounding in global and transnational history and studied under brilliant teachers in topics as diverse as environmental history, Russian historiography, and French Algeria. After graduating I spent some months living and training with elite marathon runners in the highland town of Iten, Kenya (I am a keen distance-runner), during which time I became particularly interested in African and colonial history.
I came to Edinburgh in 2012 for a Masters, and then a PhD, in African Studies, both of which were funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
During the course of my postgraduate and doctoral research (on the role played by Scottish missionaries in colonising processes in Kenya – see research interests), I undertook archival research and oral history interviews in Scotland and central Kenya. In all, I spent about a year doing fieldwork in Kenya, three months of which were spent working on the British Library-funded Endangered Archive Project “Protecting the Archive of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa”.
I joined the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology in January 2018 as a Teaching Fellow in African History. I started an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at the start of the 2019/20 academic year.
Summary of research interestsPlaces:
- Twentieth Century & After
I am a social and cultural historian of colonial Africa, with particular research interests and expertise in the history of central Kenya. Thematically, I am interested in the history of the body, especially aspects of this field which touch upon understandings and practices surrounding physical training, improvement, and masculinity.
For my PhD thesis, I researched the role played by Scottish missionaries in colonising processes in the Gikuyu highlands of colonial Kenya. Entitled “A ‘Muscular Christianity’: The Church of Scotland Mission, Gikuyu, and the Question of the Body in Colonial Kenya c1900-1938”, the thesis explores how missionary work raised questions about the body, embodiment and personhood for both missionaries and those on the receiving end of their work. The topics I look at in the thesis include: missionary sport programmes, hygiene, the "labour question" in colonial Kenya, and the "female circumcision controversy" of 1929.
I have an active research interest in colonial and post-colonial archives, memories of colonialism, and, broadly-speaking, the role of the colonial past in the present. Between January and April 2016 I worked on the British Library-funded Endangered Archive Project “Protecting the Archive of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa”. I co-organised the workshop “Post-Colonial and Endangered Archives in Africa”, which took place in Lusaka, Zambia, in October 2016: http://roape.net/2016/11/22/endangered-archives-africa/
Current research activities
While on my Teaching Fellowship, in addition to developing and publishing elements of my research on missionaries and colonialism in Kenya, I am taking advantage of being based in Edinburgh to research the university’s cultural and historic links with the continent of Africa. In the summer of 2016 I worked part-time on a collaborative research project into the University’s African alumni. I have become particularly interested in the West African medical students who studied in Edinburgh in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially their engagement with scientific notions of race, anatomy, and physical anthropology.
Body and Power in Colonial Africa (HIST10432)
Politics and Power in Post-Colonial East Africa (HIST10418)
Historical Skills and Methods I (pathway: "Historians and the Body") (HIST10426)
Lecturing on: Making of the Modern World (HIST08033) and The Making of the Modern Body (ECSH08042)
Tutoring on: Introduction to Historiography (HIST08044)
History in Practice (pathway: “Tribe, tradition and modernity in colonial Kenya”) (CHCA10001). 2017/18.
An Unhappy Valley: Mau Mau, culture and colonialism in Kenya's highlands ca.1895-ca.1964 (PGHC11476)
Historical Methodology (pathway: “Historians and the Body”) (PGHC11335)
Joint supervisor for Daniel Heathcote's PhD, "Another World? East Africa and the Global 1960s"
In 2018/19 I supervised three MSc dissertations to succesful completion.
- "Male on Male Sexual Violence During the Mau Mau Emergency 1952-1960"
- "Jaramogi Oginga Odinga's Political Imagination and the Development of Political Thought in Kenya: Ethnicity, Decolonization, and the Global Cold War 1953-1969"
- "Dr James Miranda Barry and medical regulation in the British Cape of Good Hope"
In 2017/2018 I supervised two MSc dissertations to succesful completion.
- "Sexualized violence in the American South, 1900-68."
- “These People are Animals”” Exploring the Porous Boundary Between Humans and Animals in the Mau Mau Uprising