Spotlight on: Dr Heike Schmidt

I was born in Germany, although I have spent most of my life living elsewhere. I joined the History Department in 2013 as Lecturer in Modern History. My area of expertise is nineteenth and twentieth century African History, in particular Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Previously, I was visiting Professor for African History and Society at the University of Vienna and I held full-time teaching positions in the USA and Germany.


My year abroad at the University of Zimbabwe, taken shortly before writing my MA dissertation, was a transformative experience. I discovered my passion for the African past and for one particular area in eastern Zimbabwe, the Honde Valley, bordering Mozambique. Consequently I changed my MA dissertation topic from Soviet to African History with my proficiency in Russian becoming a minor casualty in this process. I earned my MA in History and Sociology at the University of Hannover in Germany and moved on to Oxford, St Antony’s College, to work with Terence Ranger on my D.Phil in Modern History. This project initially resulted in my doctoral thesis which was a case study of the liberation war of the 1970s in the Honde Valley and recently a monograph that is a micro-history of the valley and a social history of suffering more broadly.

honde valley zimbabwe book cover

Since, my research focus has shifted to Tanzania. I purposefully sought a change in my research interests, but surprised myself with two constants: Again I sought a geographically remote research area. More importantly, the theme of violence re-emerged, albeit in a different historical setting and in manifestations that were novel to my existing research focus: sexual crime and slavery. I am also working on a comparative study of female political authority in Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

songea tanzania african modernities cover

I currently am coordinator for the study abroad programme.

Research has provided me with the privilege of living in Africa for several years. Even though the main purpose of these stays was to pursue research in national, government, company, and private archives as well as to conduct oral history interviews, the sheer intensity of life – both the joy and the difficulties – have contributed greatly to who I am, and not merely as researcher. Well, and then there are detective stories. One day in Harare/Zimbabwe, bedridden with malaria, my supervisor, Terence Ranger, brought me some to read, and I have been hooked ever since.


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