Creating Regional Continuity through Gendered Historical Network Memory

November 11, 2016


International Affairs Building, ISERP Conference Room 270B

Event Type: 

Jan Bender Shetler, Goshen College 


This session will center around Chapter 1 of a larger book manuscript under review with University of Wisconsin Press: Women in Africa and the Diaspora Series now entitled Connecting Communities: A History of Gendered Social Network Memory of the Mara Region, Tanzania, 1880-present which explores the history of women’s narratives about the past rooted in the core spatial images of widespread regional networks. My previous work, Imagining Serengeti, primarily employed men’s ethnic accounts rooted in specific places. This chapter employs a range of methodologies (linguistics, ethnography and oral tradition) to understand a region with a diverse range of language groups, lineage patterns and cultural norms, which nevertheless shares underlying regional understandings that made sustained interethnic interaction possible. In exploring the various forms of women’s historical memory in ancestral names, objects, life stories, customary knowledge and “gossip” I argue that women regularly marrying across these boundaries over the last millennium forged and maintained community connections through historical memory. Women sustained these networks because they needed them to get their work done as strangers in a new community, or to seek aid in times of famine or crisis. They learned many of these stories from their grandmothers in whose home they slept until they married. Grandmother’s stories gave them both the knowledge of their networks as well as instructed them in the importance of maintaining these networks both for their own wellbeing and that of their communities. Women’s memory, though in diverse forms, was critical to the unfolding historical process of creating an interacting region.


Jan Bender Shetler is a professor of History and chair of the department of History and Political Science at Goshen College. She is the author of Imagining Serengeti: A History of Landscape Memory in Tanzania from Earliest Times to the Present (2007) and the editor of Gendering Ethnicity in African Women’s Lives (2015) among many other works. Her research has focused primarily on the history of northern Tanzania where she explores questions around oral traditions, social identity, memory and the environment. Her current research examines in particular the issue of gendered memory and how gender practices shape the transmission of knowledge and the creation of social networks.


Additional information about the event and the series available here


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