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African studies professor receives world’s biggest prize for history scholarship

African studies professor receives world’s biggest prize for history scholarship

Professor aims to “decompartmentalize” historical inquiry

March 22, 2023 at 2:45pm

History has everything to do with interpretation and examining the interconnectedness of events and movements to better understand our world.

“History is more than facts. It’s much more complex in terms of the stories and events of the past,” says Saheed Aderinto, a professor of history and African and African Diaspora Studies in the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs. “It’s not looking at a particular phenomenon from one angle – I want to look at different parts of the angle, different possible directions.” 

Aderinto was recently awarded the prestigious Dan David Prize, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the study of history and includes $300,000, the world’s largest cash prize in the field.

The selection committee lauded Aderinto “for situating African history at the cutting edge of diverse literatures in the history of sexuality, nonhumans and violence, noting that it is exceptional to see a single person leading scholarship in all of these fields.”

An announcement made clear, “Aderinto’s work challenges historians to think about what constitutes the past in completely new ways, to ask new questions about the makers of history and to question conventional assumptions about power, agency and authority. He aims to recalibrate conventional definitions of sources used to reconstruct African history.”

The awardee himself see the recognition as critical to his goals at the university. "While $300,000 is a lot of money, the true value of the Dan David Prize is not the cash per se but what it would help me do for my students and mentees, FIU, global infrastructure of knowledge, and communities of practice,” he says about receiving the honor. “Hence, the award is about my scholarly achievement as much as about FIU and the communities I represent." 

Aderinto’s thematic style of scholarship allows him to study history from the widest possible range. He self-identifies as a “decompartmentalizing” historian who incorporates various branches of history to create encompassing narratives about African colonial histories. This apporach is reflected in his books, which focus on his native Nigeria and challenge conventional narratives. 

His first book tackled sexuality’s relationship to colonialism, a work that won the 2016 Nigerian Studies Association's Book Award Prize for the “most important scholarly book/work on Nigeria published in English language." His book on guns in colonial Nigeria revealed that “guns were not just arms of violence in Nigeria. They were domesticated into Nigerian culture and became an important element of Nigerian identity.” And his book on animals looks at them as colonial subjects, thereby “expanding the frontier of colonial subjecthood beyond humans.”

Next up: a book and a documentary on Fuji music, a popular Nigerian genre. Like his previous works, it will be the first book published on the subject.

“My desire is to conduct work no one else has ever done,” Aderinto explains. “My agenda is to look at a particular historical phenomenon from a dimension that it has not been explored…to look at this phenomenon in a completely different way. I’m always in search of originality.”