Wylie, Diana 1948-

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WYLIE, Diana 1948-


Born January 1, 1948, in Woodbury, CT; daughter of Andrew Duncan and Jeanne (Sands) Wylie. Education: Goucher College, B.A., 1969, University of Edinburgh, M.Litt., 1974, Yale University, Ph.D. (history), 1984.


Home—22 Phillips St., Boston, MA 02114. Office—Department of History, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215. E-mail—[email protected].


Educator and historian. University of Oran, Algeria, instructor in history, 1975-76; Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, instructor in history, 1978-79; Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA, assistant professor of history, 1982, 1985; Yale University, New Haven, CT, assistant professor, 1985-91, associate professor of history, 1991-94, associate director of Southern African research program, 1985-94, member of advisory committee on Yale Educational Initiatives in South Africa, 1986-87; Boston University, Boston, MA, associate professor, 1994-2003, professor of history, 2003—. Visiting professor at Harvard University, 1999-2000; presenter at numerous conferences. Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, 1970-71; editor for Holmes & Meier, Publishers, New York, NY, 1974-82.


Yale University Morse Junior Faculty fellowship, 1988-89; Senior Faculty fellowship, 1992-93; Social Science Research Council mid-career fellowship, 2000; Marion and Jasper Whiting fellowship, 2001; Boston University Humanities Foundation senior fellow, 2002-03; Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, Boston University, 2002; Melville J. Herskovits Award, African Studies Association, and Choice Outstanding Academic Book designation, both 2002, both for Starving on a Full Stomach.


A Little God: The Twilight of Patriarchy in a Southern African Chiefdom, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1990.

Starving on a Full Stomach: Hunger and the Triumph of Cultural Racism in Modern South Africa, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 2001.

Contributor to books, including Oxford History of the British Empire, 1999, Multi-Cultural Space and Fabric in the Eastern Mediterranean, edited by Maurice Cerasi and Stefan Weber, 2004, and Dictionary of Labour Biography. Contributor to periodicals, including Past and Present, Journal of African History, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, and Yale Review. Member of editorial board, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 1998—.


A biography of South African artist T. H. Mnyele; research into the history of architecture and city planning in Rabat, Morocco.


Historian and educator Diana Wylie has focused primarily on the history of southern Africa in both her academic career and in her writing. The author of two books on the recent history of South Africa and nearby regions, Wylie has conducted extensive research in Botswana and South Africa, in archives as well as by interviewing the region's inhabitants.

Based on Wylie's Ph.D. dissertation at Yale University, A Little God: The Twilight of Patriarchy in a Southern African Chiefdom delves into the nineteenth-and early twentieth-century social structures of Southern Africa's Tswana society as local cultures changed with the advent of colonial rule. Focusing in particular on the Ngwato chiefdom, she shows how the growth of the region's diamond and gold mining industries transformed the traditional chief, Tshekedi Khama, into both and adversary and an agent of the colonial government, while the chief's traditional patriarchal roles were both strengthened and weakened by colonial courts and governments. Calling Wylie's book "well-written" and "interesting to read" due to its wealth of factual detail, Africa Today contributor Mohamed H. Abucar nonetheless took issue with the author's "modernization approach," which Abucar contended "undermines understanding the effect structural changes have on the value system" of the Tswana. In African Affairs Neil Parsons viewed Wylie's work more favorably, noting that in A Little God Wylie "deftly weaves the pattern of events" and highlights issues centrally important to the region's rural past.

Starvation has become linked in many minds with the African continent, and Wylie examines the implications of this connection in Starving on a Full Stomach: Hunger and the Triumph of Cultural Racism in Modern South Africa. In this 2002 book she presents what Isis contributor Keith Snedegar referred to as "an impressive yet accessible work on nutritional science as failed mediator between European and African food cultures." In African food culture the quantity of food formerly varied with the seasons, and so people prized plenty, while in the European's view the preparation and variety of foodstuffs marked class distinctions. From these roots, many South African whites evolved a theory of cultural racism: they justified white supremacy by explaining that Africans, who were hungry for political and economic reasons, were, rather, ignorant or science and, thus, not eligible for inclusion in the modern state. In the Journal of SocialHistory Clifton Crais praised Wylie's book for presenting readers with "many useful insights on the politics of poverty over nearly two centuries of historical change." Snedegar also praised Wylie's efforts by noting that in Starving on a Full Stomach she "exhibits a breadth of scholarship and clarity of style that will make it rewarding for a wide audience."

Wylie told CA: "I often say to my students 'Writing is thinking,' and so it follows logically that one reason why I write is to figure things out.

"Because I am an historian of Africa, that task entails imagining myself into a time and place far removed from my New England roots. Further, because my audience may be similarly removed from Africa's past, I try to express my insights in the least arcane prose possible. I want to avoid abstruse academic writing, tangled up in excessively complex theory: it distances most readers from the tangible realities of the continent. At a time when the news out of Africa has become a litany of disaster and despair, I would like to help people—those who read—to apply to Africa the same analytical concepts they bring to bear on other continents. And I would like to render Africa less exotic for them by making vivid the simple details of daily life: the markets that work and the ones that don't; the feasts as well as the hunger; the graffiti and the humor and the songs.

"The data I have collected during my field trips have made me tell certain stories. I have learned that the historian is as much a conduit for the story the past wants to tell as a storyteller in her own right. What I strive hardest to express is a holistic view of the past, that is, the integration of the political with the material with the cultural aspects of people's lives."



African Affairs, April, 1993, Neil Parsons, review of A Little God: The Twilight of Patriarchy in a Southern African Chiefdom, p. 304.

Africa Today, winter, 1993, Mohamed H. Abucar, review of A Little God, p. 74.

Isis, March, 2003, Keith Snedegar, review of Starving on a Full Stomach: Hunger and the Triumph of Cultural Racism in Modern South Africa, p. 196.

Journal of African History, July, 2002, Bill Freund, review of Starving on a Full Stomach, p. 341.

Journal of Social History, spring, 2003, Clifton Crais, review of Starving on a Full Stomach, p. 802.

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