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Scholarship & Projects

I am a historian focused on the United States and southern Africa in the 20th-century. My research cuts across questions of race in foreign policy, labor and the workplace, and social movements more broadly. I am also a trained oral historian engaged in public-facing projects and community advocacy. 

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Book Project

Diplomacy at Work: South African Labor, U.S. Multinationals, and Transnational Racial Solidarity (1971-1987)

My book project, Diplomacy at Work: South African Labor, U.S. Multinationals, and Transnational Racial Solidarity (under contract with Columbia University Press), presents a new social and political history of the anti-apartheid movement, placing South African workers at the center of global narratives of labor and race in international relations. Based on an examination of extensive oral histories and multilingual archival materials from the United States, United Kingdom, and South Africa, Diplomacy at Work probes the intersection of U.S. corporate governance and South African labor movements in the late apartheid era. It challenges existing late-Cold War narratives of a weakened South African-led anti-apartheid movement and a decline in trade union strength on a global scale. Workers held multinational corporations in South Africa accountable to reform and pressed the bounds of what was possible. Unions provided a critical space through which workers could leverage international working class connections as a means to ultimately transform the workplace and dismantle the apartheid system. Labor activism was instrumental in both challenging corporate complacency in apartheid, holding management accountable to anti-apartheid reform, and bringing down apartheid both in the workplace and beyond.

Recent Scholarship & Awards

Refereed Journals

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“‘An Exercise in the Art of the Possible’: Waging a Battle Against Apartheid in the South African Workplace,” Enterprise & Society, 25, no. 2, May 2024, doi:10.1017/eso.2023.20.

The Wiehahn Commission, a 1979 internal South African labor reform, accelerated the corporate recognition of Black trade unions, complementing international workplace codes and the burgeoning push for ethically-sound business practices in apartheid South Africa. While U.S. subsidiaries in South Africa did not initially voice support for Black trade unions, many were faced with cascading internal and external pressures to negotiate with these emerging unions. By incorporating the Sullivan Principles, a U.S. code for ethical business conduct, into the broader scholarship on the South African trade union movement, this chapter examines how corporate reforms landed in South Africa, probing the corporate response to worker demands. South African workers were not passive recipients of workplace reform, but rather active participants, shaping the form and direction of U.S. and South African policy.

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“People Before Profit? Ford, General Motors & the Spirit of the Sullivan Principles in Apartheid South Africa (1976-84),” Ethnic Studies Review, peer-reviewed academic journal published by the University of California Press, December 2021, http://doi.org/10.1525/esr.2021.44.3.64

Focusing on the automobile industry in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, this article demonstrates how Ford Motor Company and General Motors challenged apartheid through adherence to the Sullivan Principles, while maintaining cordial relations with the capitalist South African government in the late apartheid period. Designed to promote desegregation of the workplace and equal pay for equal work, the Sullivan Principles were a controversial code of conduct for U.S. subsidiaries operating in apartheid South Africa. Leon Sullivan, an African American civil rights leader, unveiled the Principles in March 1977 with the support of U.S. multinationals, including both Ford and GM. Drawing on archival sources from both the United States and South Africa, I trace how these American multinational corporations did not sufficiently allay their workers’ most pressing concerns, nor did they firmly challenge the South African government. The Principles’ shortcomings underscore the disconnect between the anti-apartheid movement’s calls for revolutionary transformation and the American business community’s focus on evolutionary change, thus highlighting the tensions between international capital and South Africa’s racialized labor relations. 

Short Academic Articles

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“Research Note: Mayibuye Archives & the Cold War in Southern Africa,” Cold War History, peer-reviewed academic journal published by the Cambridge University Press, published June 2022, DOI: 10.1080/14682745.2022.2076347.

Drawing from my experience researching in South Africa, this Research Note provides an overview of the University of the Western Cape Robben Island Museum Mayibuye Archives. This archive is rooted in the liberation struggle in southern Africa and contains a considerable number of historical documents, oral histories and audio-visual materials documenting the global anti-apartheid movement. Located in Bellville, on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, the archive is easily accessible and well worth a visit from scholars of the Cold War in southern Africa, the global Black freedom struggle and international social movements.

Public-Facing Articles

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"US Worker Movements & Direct Links Against Apartheid," Black Perspectives, April 26, 2024. *Part of a forum on global anti-apartheid commemorating South Africa's first democratic elections.

"A Postcard from Detroit," Contingent Magazine, November 22, 2022

"Black Internationalism and a Wide View of Leon Sullivan's Work," Scholar Blog, Emory University Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, November 1, 2022.

“Corporates and Investors Need to Engage with the US to Halt its Slide into Autocratization,” Responsible Investor, October 2020 (co-authored with Dr. Raj Thamotheram)

“The Sullivan Principles at Work: The Conflicted Activism of Rev. Leon Howard Sullivan,” Scholar Blog, Emory University Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, August 7, 2019

Media Appearances

“The United States Anti-Apartheid Movement: Bonus Episode,” Scottish Centre for Global History, Episode 4, 50-minute interview with Dr. Chris Fevre and Dr. Matt Graham, January 2021.

Select Awards & Grants

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William Appleman Williams Emerging Scholar Research Grant, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations

 

Jefferson Scholars National Fellowship (declined)

 

Marilyn Blatt Young Fellowship: Honorable Mention, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (pictured left)

Fulbright Fellowship (South Africa)

National Security Education Program David L. Boren Fellowship (South Africa)

Steve & Barbara Mendell Graduate Fellowship in Cultural Literacy, Walter Capps Center

Robert O. Collins Prize for Best First Publication, UCSB History Department

Elings-Wells Dissertation Fellowship, UCSB Graduate Division

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