Frederick Cooper

Professor of History

Yale University, PhD 1974

Office Address: 

King Juan Carlos Center, Room 708



Field of Study: 


Research Interests: 

Modern Africa; empires in world history; colonization and decolonization; the social sciences and the colonial situation


Frederick Cooper's early research focused on questions of slavery and labor in 19th- and 20th- century East Africa, the subject of a trilogy of his books. In studying interaction and conflict in specific locations, he became increasingly interested in the shifting nature of colonial thinking and practices that went into these processes. This new direction led to a book on the relationship of social change and conflict to decolonization in French and British Africa as well as a comparative project begun in the late 1980s with anthropologist Ann Stoler. Cooper and Stoler organized an international conference on colonialism in 1989 and published an edited book, Tensions of Empire, in 1997. Cooper's interest in social theory led him to write a series of articles critical of some of the key concepts widely used in the social sciences and humanities–identity, modernity, and globalization. These and other essays have been collected in his book Colonialism in Question; he also edited with Randall Packard a book on development and the social sciences. Meanwhile, another track was developing, this one coming out of teaching at the University of Michigan (1982-2001) and since 2002 at NYU. Having for many years taught courses not only on Africa, but on social theory, colonialism, and other broad topics, he began to collaborate with Jane Burbank on a graduate course that sought to counter both the national and the modern bias of most historical studies, via a study of the most durable form of political organization in world history–empires. After bringing this course to NYU, Cooper and Burbank put together a lecture course on empires for beginning undergraduates through the MAP (now CORE) program. Teaching this course in turn encouraged Cooper and Burbank to write a book on empires in world history, published in 2010. It won the World History Association prize for 2011 and has been or is being translated into seven languages. Cooper has continued to do extensive archival research in France and Senegal, culminating in his most recent book Citizenship between Empire and Nation. He has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (1990-91, 1995-96, 2002-03), the Wilson Center (1987), the Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio (2006), the Institut d'Etudes Avancées de Nantes (2009), and the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin (2010-11). In 2015-16 he will be a fellow of the program “Work and Human Life Cycle in Global History” at Humboldt University in Berlin. He has also been a visiting professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, the Ecole Normale Supérieure, and Université de Paris VII. His work has been supported by National Endowment for the Humanities, Guggenheim, ACLS, and other fellowships. His book From Slaves to Squatters won the Herskovits Prize of the African Studies Association. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001. He has given lectures or seminars in over 20 countries. In 2011 he presented the annual Marc Bloch lecture at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and the Thomas Hodgkin Memorial Lecture at Oxford University. In 2012 he delivered the McMillan-Stewart lectures at Harvard University, recently published by Harvard University Press.

Selected Works:


Cover.Citizenship.jpg  Citizenship between Empire and Nation:  Remaking France and French Africa, 1945-1960.  Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2014.  Also in French translation.

Africa in the World:  Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 2014.  French translation in preparation.

(Co-author with Jane Burbank) Empires in World History, Power and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. Also in French, Spanish, German, and Turkish translations. Russian, Chinese, and Korean translations in preparation.






ColonialismInQuestionBook.jpgColonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. Also in French and German translations.






AfricaSince1940.jpgAfrica Since 1940:  The Past of the Present.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Also in French translation. 





DecolonizationAndAfricanSociety.jpgDecolonization and African Society:  The Labor Question in French and British Africa.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1996.  Also in French translation 






BeyondSlavery.jpg(Co-author with Rebecca Scott and Thomas Holt) Beyond Slavery:  Explorations of Race, Labor, and Citizenship in Postemancipation Societies.  Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2000.  Also in Portuguese translation. 





ConfrontingHistoricalParadigms.jpg(Co-author, with Allen Isaacman,  Florencia Mallon, William Roseberry, and Steve Stern) Confronting Historical Paradigms: Peasants, Labor, and the Capitalist World System in Africa and Latin America.  Madison:  University of Wisconsin Press, 1993. 






PlaceholderBook.pngOn the African Waterfront: Urban Disorder and the Transformation of Work in Colonial Mombasa. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987. 





FromSlavesToSquattersBOOK.jpgFrom Slaves to Squatters: Plantation Labor and Agriculture in Zanzibar and Coastal Kenya, 1890-1925. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980 






PlantationSlaveryBOOK.jpgPlantation Slavery on the East Coast of Africa. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977   

Edited books:

Struggle for the City: Migrant Labor, Capital, and the State in Urban Africa. Beverly Hills, California: Sage, 1983.

Tensions of Empire:  Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World.  Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1997 (with Ann Stoler).  

International Development and the Social Sciences:  Essays in the History and Politics of Knowledge.  Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1997 (with Randall Packard).

Societies after Slavery: A Select Annotated Bibliography of Printed Sources on the British West Indies, British Colonial Africa, South Africa, Cuba, and Brazil.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002 (with Rebecca Scott, Thomas Holt, and Aims McGuiness).  

Lessons of Empire: Imperial Histories and American Power.  New York: New Press, 2006 (with Craig Calhoun and Kevin Moore).


"Conflict and Connection:  Rethinking Colonial African History," American Historical Review 99 (1994):  1516-45.

"'Our Strike':  Equality, Anticolonial Politics, and the French West African Railway Strike of 1947-48," Journal of African History 37 (1996):  81-118.

"Beyond Identity."  Theory and Society 29 (2000): 1-47 (with Rogers Brubaker).

"Empire, droits et citoyenneté, de 212 à 1946." Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales 63, 3 (2008): 495-531 (with Jane Burbank).

"Possibility and Constraint: African Independence in Historical Perspective." Journal of African History, 49 (2008): 167-96. 

"Reconstructing Empire in Post-War French and British Africa." Past and Present, 210, Supplement 6 (February 2011) on "Post-war Reconstruction in Europe," 196-210.

"Alternatives to Nationalism in French West Africa, 1945-60." Pp. 110-37 in Marc Frey and Jost Dülferr, eds., Elites and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

"The Empire Effect." Public Culture 24, 2 (2012): 239-47 (with Jane Burbank).

"Social Rights and Human Rights in the Time of Decolonization." Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 3, 3 (2012):  473-92.

"How Global Do We Want Our Intellectual History to Be?" Pp. 283-94 in Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori, eds., Global Intellectual History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

"French Africa, 1947-48: Reform, Violence, and Uncertainty in a Colonial Situation."  Critical Inquiry 40 (2014): 466-78.

"African Studies: History."  Pp. 286-91 in James Wright, ed. International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd ed., Vol. 1.  Oxford: Elsevier, 2015.

"Africa in World History."  Pp. 556-84 in J. R. McNeill and Kenneth Pomeranz, eds., The Cambridge World History: Vol. VII Production, Destruction, and Connection, 1750-Present, Part 1 Structures, Spaces, and Boundary Making.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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Updated on 03/01/2016