Derek R. Peterson is professor in the History Department and the Department of Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan. His scholarly work concerns the intellectual and cultural history of eastern Africa. Peterson’s most recent book is Ethnic Patriotism and the East African Revival (2012), which won the Melville Herskovits Award of the African Studies Association and the Martin Klein Prize of the American Historical Association. In 2016 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in African Studies and elected Fellow of the British Academy.
From 2004 to 2009 Peterson was Senior Lecturer in History, Director of the African Studies Centre and Fellow of Selwyn College at Cambridge University. During Peterson’s directorship the Centre inaugurated the ‘Cambridge-Africa Collaborative Research Programme’, which (with funding from the Leverhulme Trust) annually brought six or seven Africa-based scholars to Cambridge to work on overlapping research projects. In 2008 the Ohio University Press launched the ‘Cambridge African Studies Centre’ book series as a means of bringing fellows’ scholarship to public notice. Peterson edits the series with Cambridge colleagues Harri Englund and Chris Warnes.
At the University of Michigan Peterson has been involved in the African Studies Center, acting at various times as Associate Director, Director pro tempore, and Coordinator of the African Heritage Initiative, a working group that brings humanities scholars in Michigan together with colleagues in Ghana, South Africa and elsewhere. Since its inception the Heritage Initiative has coordinated a number of workshops, including a large international conference in Accra in December 2009 (with the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana) and, in July 2011, a scholarly meeting at Museum Africa in Johannesburg. This resulted in the publication of Peterson, Kodzo Gavua, and Ciraj Rassool, eds., The Politics of Heritage in Africa (Cambridge UP, 2015).
Peterson is the principal investigator for a $1.5 million grant awarded by the Mellon Foundation to the U-M African Studies Center and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (South Africa). The program–entitled Rethinking the Humanities in Africa: A Transnational Collaboration–entails two major workshops a year, one in Johannesburg, the other in Ann Arbor, organized around themes that draw Michigan and Wits faculty and graduate students into close collaboration. Peterson organised (with Daniel Herwitz) a November 2014 conference on ‘African Studies in the Digital Age’ in Ann Arbor; in June 2016 Peterson coordinated a conference in Johannesburg on ‘African Print Cultures’ (with Isabel Hofmeyr).
With financial support from the Center for Research Libraries and the U-M African Studies Center, Peterson coordinates an ongoing effort to organize and preserve endangered government archives in Uganda. The project–which is described elsewhere on this site–is based at Mountains of the Moon University in western Uganda. Over the course of six years seven archival collections have been organised and catalogued, including the papers of Jinja District, Kabale District, Kabarole District, and Hoima District. Several of these archives have been brought into the university’s collections and made available for scholars’ and citizens’ use.
Peterson is a Fellow of the Royal Historical History, a winner of the Philip Leverhulme Prize in Modern History (given by the Leverhulme Trust to U.K.-based scholars under 35 years old), and has been a Visiting Fellow of the Kellogg Institute at the University of Notre Dame and a Research Associate at the Department of History and Archaeology, University of Nairobi, the Department of History, University of Dar es Salaam, and the Makerere Institute of Social Research at Makerere University.