Dr. Rhiannon Stephens

Pronouns: she/her


Affiliated with: Center for Science and Society

Columbia University - Department of History
Fayerweather Hall, 1180 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027


Rhiannon Stephens is a Professor of History at Columbia University. She specializes in the history of precolonial and early colonial East Africa from the first millennium CE through the twentieth century. Her research focuses in particular on gender, economic difference and political organisation. She has written on the history of motherhood and its intersection with politics and economics in precolonial Uganda and on the history of poverty and wealth as economic and social concepts in Uganda over the past two thousand years. Most recently, her research has turned to engaging with historical climate change and how East African communities responded to the challenges and opportunities it posed. She is now working on a collaborative project on the entanged histories of gender, power and climate on the Swahili coast of East Africa. She is the co-leader (with Jason Smerdon) of the Environmental Sciences and Humanities Cluster at the Center for Science and Society at Columbia University. She is a faculty affiliate at The Earth Institute, the Institute of African Studies, the Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality, the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy. Her work has been published in the American Historical Review, the Journal of African History, Past and Present, and African Studies Review.


Poverty and Wealth in East Africa: A Conceptual History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2022)

A History of African Motherhood: The Case of Uganda, 700-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Doing Conceptual History in Africa (Berghan Books, 2018), co-edited with Axel Fleisch

"Poverty's Pasts: A Case for Longue Durée Studies," Journal of African History 59, no. 3 (2018): 399-409

Bereft, Selfish, and Hungry: Greater Luhyia Concepts of the Poor in Precolonial East Africa,” American Historical Review 123, no. 3 (2018): 789-816.

"'Whether They Promised Each Other Some Thing Is Difficult to Work Out': The Complicated History of Marriage in Uganda," African Studies Review 59, no. 1 (2016): 127-153.

The Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa,” in Oxford Bibliographies in African Studies, ed. Thomas Spear (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)

"Birthing Wealth? Motherhood and Poverty in East-Central Uganda, 700-1900," Past and Present 215 (May 2012): 235-268.

"Introduction: New Themes in Ugandan History," Journal of Eastern African Studies 6, no. 3 (2012): 487-489.

"Lineage and Society in Precolonial Uganda," Journal of African History 50, 2 (2009): 203-21.

“East Africa, 1500-1900,” in Encyclopedia of Women in World History, ed. Bonnie G. Smith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 122-126.