Top of page
Skip to main content
Main content

Clifton CraisProfessor of History & Director of Graduate Admissions

Clifton Crais, Professor (B.A., University of Maryland, 1982; M.A., Johns Hopkins, 1984; Ph.D., 1988). A first-gen graduate, over the course of my career my research interests have encompassed: African history; comparative world history; biography; violence and economic inequality; and creative non-fiction on the subjects of memory, trauma, and narrative. I am author of over one hundred works, including: the multi-award winning History Lessons: A Memoir of Madness, Memory, and the Brain (Overlook and Penguin, 2014) which was recently recognized as one of the best memoirs of the decade by Bookbub and described as “magnificent” by the Los Angeles TimesThe South Africa Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Duke, 2014), co-edited with Thomas McClendon; Poverty, War, and Violence in South Africa (Cambridge 2011); co-author of the critically-acclaimed Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography (Princeton, 2008, 2010,) on the woman more famously known as the “Hottentot Venus,” and the subject of a feature film, Venus NoireThe Politics of Evil: Magic, Power and the Political Imagination in South Africa (Cambridge, 2002, 2009), White Supremacy and Black Resistance in Pre-Industrial South Africa: The Making of the Colonial Order in the Eastern Cape, 1770-1865 (Cambridge, 1992); editor of The Culture of Power in Southern Africa: Essays on State Formation and the Political Imagination (Portsmouth, 2003); co-editor of Breaking the Chains: Slavery and its Legacy in Nineteenth-Century South Africa (Johannesburg and Bloomington, 1995); and Area Editor of the Encyclopedia of World History, 8 vol. (Oxford University Press, 2008). My research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment of the Humanities, Fulbright, and the Stanford Humanities Center.

I am completing a new book, Born in Blood: The Violent Making of the Modern World (University of Chicago Press and Picador)  focusing especially on the period from c. 1750. The book explores how financial innovations combined with new and more destructive weapons created a military and commercial revolution that unleashed the worst global destruction since humans colonized the planet more than 10,000 before the present and second only to the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago. I am particularly interested in connecting human and non-human histories, the force of violence in the making of the contemporary world, especially anthropogenic change, and in alternative ways of envisioning past and present. This work has been shaped by participation in a multi-university interdisciplinary initiative on the topic of “horror and enchantment” that is exploring innovative ways of thinking about the past beyond conventional disciplinary constraints.

I supervise students working on African history and comparative world history, especially in the period from 1700 to the very recent past. Prospective students should contact previous and current students, listed below, and should contact me directly describing their scholarly interests.


  • BA, University of Maryland, 1982.
  • MA, Johns Hopkins University, 1984.
  • PhD, Johns Hopkins University, 1988.


  • African History
  • Comparative World History
  • History and Theory

Current Graduate Students

Recently-Appointed Doctoral Graduates

Sample of Recent Publications By Doctoral Graduates

  • Andrea Arrington, Victoria Falls and Colonial Imagination in British Southern Africa: Turning Water into Gold (Palgrave, 2017)

  • Debjani Bhattacharyya, Empire and Ecology in the Bengal Delta (Cambridge, 2018)

  • Daniel Domingues, The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780-1867 (Cambridge, 2017)

  • Jane Hooper, Feeding Globalization: Madagascar and the Provisioning Trade, 1600-1800 (Ohio University Press, 2017)

  • Molly McCullers, “‘The Time of the United Nations in Southwest Africa is near:’ Local Drama and Global Politics in Apartheid-Era Hereroland,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 2013

  • Kara Moskowitz, ‘The Government Is Us Now?’ Decolonization, Development, and the Making of Kenya: 1945-8 (forthcoming, Ohio University Press, 2019)

  • Francis Musoni, Border Jumping and the Politics of Migration from Zimbabwe to South Africa (forthcoming, Indiana University Press, 2019)

  • Ashley Parcells, "Rural Development, Royal History, and the Struggles for Authority in Early Apartheid Zululand, 1951-1954," Journal of African History, 2018

  • Jill Rosenthal, “From ‘Migrants’ to ‘Refugees’:  Identity, Aid, and Decolonization in Ngara District, Tanzania,” Journal of African History, 2015

  • Sunandan K. N., “From Acharam to Knowledge: Claims of Caste Dominance in Twentieth-century Malabar,” History and Sociology of South Asia, 2015

Undergraduate Student Alumni now in Academia