Telling the History of Others, David Gordon, Roger Howell Jr. Professor of History Inaugural Lecture

by Office of Stewardship

Lecture Featured Event Open to the Public

Tue, Mar 5, 2024

7:30 PM – 9 PM EST (GMT-5)

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VAC, Visual Arts Center, Kresge Auditorium

Visual Arts Center




"Telling the History of Others: Guidance from African Historical Traditions"

Why do we tell the histories of others? To whom does history belong? What are the moral and ethical questions in telling the histories of others from the privileged position of a US college? In a reflection on a personal journey as a historian of others, Professor David Gordon discusses how the oral traditions and history-telling conventions of central Africa inform these questions. The talk shows how the story of a legendary love affair united central African histories and created a universal history in which diverse peoples saw their identities reflected. Such historical creativity offers inspiration for historians in our global age.

David M. Gordon is the author and editor of numerous publications on indigenous knowledge, apartheid, economy, society, and the environment in Africa, including his book, Invisible Agents: Spirits in a Central African History (Ohio University Press, 2012). Professor Gordon’s research and teaching focus on the history of southern and central Africa over the last two centuries, including Atlantic and Indian Ocean trading networks; British, Portuguese, and Belgian colonialism; apartheid; spiritual agency; and the historical imagination. His current research highlights the role of art objects, particularly those connected with cultural heroes, in motivating political and religious change in the central African interior during the nineteenth century. Professor Gordon earned his undergraduate degree in economic history and sociology with distinction in economic history, and honors in African studies (first class), at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and his master’s and PhD in history at Princeton University.

The Roger Howell Jr. Professorship was established by the Board of Trustees in memory of Roger Howell Jr. (1936–1989), member of the Bowdoin Class of 1958, Kenan Professor of Humanities, and the tenth president of Bowdoin College. The professorship was created to recognize his personal and professional devotion to the College, its students, faculty, alumni, and friends.

For more information, contact Jenn Berube at or 207-725-3928. Open to the public free of charge.

A live-stream of Professor Gordon's talk will be available on the Bowdoin Talks webpage:

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