Lidwien Kapteijns

Elizabeth Kimball Kendall and Elisabeth Hodder Professor of History

African historian focusing on Somalia and Sudan with a long-term research and teaching focus on the history of Africa, the Middle East, and Islam in Africa; translator of historical and popular culture texts in Arabic and Somali.

While my research initially focused on state and society in the late-precolonial Sudan, in recent decades it has focused on Somali history and culture.

  • Women’s Voices in a Man’s World (with Maryan Omar Ali, Heinemann, 1999) analyzes constructions of gender in a wide variety of Somali oral texts, including folkloric texts and Somali popular songs of the 1970s and 1980s.
  • “Making memories of Mogadishu in Somali poetry about the civil war ” is a chapter in Mediations of Violence in Africa: Fashioning New Futures from Contested Pasts (co-edited with Annemiek Richters, Brill, 2010), and deals with Somali popular culture dealing with the civil war.
  • Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) is a history of how the Somali war civil war turned into large-scale clan cleansing. This book was nominated for the African Studies Association's Ogot Prize for East African History in 2014 and is now out in paperback.
  • Currently in press is a source publication titled Stringing Coral Beads: The Religious Poetry of Brava (c.1890–1975), co-edited with Alessandra Vianello and Mohamed Kassim (Brill 2018).

I teach African and Middle Eastern history, including survey courses on the history of precolonial and modern Africa, South Africa, and the modern Middle East, as well as a course on Constructions of Gender in the Modern Middle East. I have recently developed a new 200-level course about “Port Cities of the (Western) Indian Ocean” and am working on a new seminar called “Greater Syria, c. 1850-1950.”

After more than thirty years at the College, teaching Wellesley students remains a challenge and a pleasure.


HIST263 South Africa in Historical Perspective: Rereading the Past, Re-imagining the Future

HIST264 The History of Pre-Colonial-Africa

HIST265 History of Modern Africa

HIST266 The Indian Ocean as African, Arab, and South Asian History

HIST268 Islamic Africa: A Historical Introduction

HIST293 Changing Gender Constructions in the Modern Middle East

HIST265 Seminar: African History through Public and Popular Culture

HIST364 Seminar: Film and Narratives of Social Change in the Modern Middle East and North Africa

HIST365 Seminar: African History through Public and Popular Culture

HIST366 Seminar: 'Greater Syria' under Ottoman and European Colonial Rule, c. 1850-1950

HIST367 The Indian Ocean as African, Arab, and South Asian History

HIST369 The HIstories of "Ethnic" and "Religious" Violence


  • B.A., Universiteit van Amsterdam
  • M.A., University of London
  • Doctoraal, Universiteit van Amsterdam
  • Ph.D., Universiteit van Amsterdam