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Madina Thiam

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Contact Information

Email    mthiam@ucla.edu
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I work on the social and intellectual history of Mali and the West African Sahel, with an emphasis on Islam. My dissertation is a study on freedom and mobility in the region in 19th and 20th centuries.

In addition to dissertation research, I host a podcast on the New Books Network's African Studies channel. I'm also a member of the Projet Archives des Femmes, a Bamako-based digitization project. We are collecting, safeguarding, and creating a public archive of papers of Malian women involved in the 1950s movement for independence, and post-colonial feminist activism.

In 2018, I joined a multi-disciplinary working-group on contemporary migration policy in southern Africa, under the direction of E. Tendayi Achiume; and in 2016-2018, I served as co-editor-in-chief of Ufahamu: a Journal of African Studies.

Prospective students: feel free to email me if you have any questions!

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Field of Study



Mali and West Africa
The Sahel and Sahara
The Atlantic Ocean
African Women
Mobility, Migrations, and Diasporas
Freedom and Slavery
Race and Capitalism


My dissertation, entitled "Seeking Freedom in the Sahel" is centered around the geographical and intellectual trajectories of a set of itinerant Muslim figures from present-day Mali. It draws on archival and oral research I conducted in Mali, Senegal, France, England, Ireland, and Jamaica.


Peer-reviewed Articles

  • Women in Mali." In the Oxford Encyclopedia of African Women Historyedited by Dorothy Hodgson, Alicia Decker, Abosede George, Tabitha Kanogo, Kathleen Sheldon, Fatima Sadiqi, and Pamela Scully. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. Forthcoming. 
  • with Gregory Mann, "The History of Mali: Connectivity and State Formation Since the 18th Century.In the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History, edited by Thomas Spear. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. Forthcoming. 

Book Chapters and Other Adademic Writings

  • “Struggle, Neglect and Archives,” Council for the Development of the Social Sciences in Africa (CODESRIA) Bulletin no. 4&5 (2020). Forthcoming.
  • "Nicholas Said, étonnant voyageur." In Sahara, mondes connectésedited by Sophie Caratini, Charles Grémont, Céline Lesourd et Olivier Schinz, 75-9. Paris: Gallimard, 2019. 


Media/Public Scholarship

Grants and Awards


Conference Presentations

    Invited Lectures

    • 2020 UIUC, "Seeking Freedom in the Sahel: Transnational Politics and Islamic Networks in Colonial Mopti" (Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA) [open to the public: registration link]
    • 2019 CSULB, "Women and Decolonization in Francophone West Africa" (Long Beach, CA, USA)
    • 2019 UWI-Mona, “Abū Bakr al-Ṣiddīq and the Muslim Sahel in Translation” (Kingston, Jamaica) 

    Academic Conferences and Workshops

    • 2020 African Studies Association Meeting: "After the Caliphate: Mopti, US-RDA, and Mahammadu Caam's Fuutanke Archipelago (1940s-1960s)" (Washington, DC, USA; accepted and postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19)
    • 2020 American Historical Association Meeting: “'Absolutely and utterly free.' Kinship, Muslim Education and Emancipation between Jamaica and the Middle Niger, c. 1790-1853" (New York, NY, USA)
    • 2019 Africa, Globalization and The Muslim Worlds Conference“‘Beyond Timbuktu’: Sahelian Networks and Texts in Pre-Emancipation Jamaica” (Cambridge, MA, USA)
    • 2019 Forum Transregionale Studien "Rethinking Refuge" Workshop: "Continuities of Statelessness in Southern Africa” (Berlin, Germany)
    • 2019 Luskin Center for History and Policy Fellows Seminar: "Developing a New Approach to Migration and Policy-Making in Africa" (Los Angeles, CA, USA)
    • 2018 Global Africa and Ethnographies of Interconnection Workshop: "Using 19th-century Sahelian Narratives to Write Global History" (Cornell, NY, USA)
    • 2017 International Conference of the Dakar Institute of African Studies: "African Men of Letters, Atlantic Slavery, and the Intellectual History of the Sahel, 19th and 20th c." (Dakar, Senegal)
    • 2017 ULCA HGSA Conference: "Empire State of Mind: Best of Intentions, Unsolicited Interventions, and the 2012 Crisis in Mali" (Los Angeles, CA, USA)
    • 2016 African Studies Association Conference: "A Trail of Scented Salams: Migrating and Settling along the Tarīq-al-Sūdān in the 19th and 20th centuries" (Washington DC, USA)
    • 2016 University of Bern 'Transpositions' Summer School: "Westerners along the Nile: West African Muslims in Sudan in the 19th and 20th centuries" (Kandersteg, Switzerland)

    Media/Public Talks

    • 2019 Le Monde Documentary Feature'PANAFRICAIN.E.S: Cheikh Anta Diop, l'historien révolutionnaire' with Coumba Kane, (Paris, France)
    • 2019 NationWide FM Radio Interview: ‘Talking History’ with Prof. Verene Shepherd (Kingston, Jamaica)
    • 2017 UNESCO World Heritage Young Professionals Forum: “Memory: Lost and Recovered Heritage” (Warsaw & Krakow, Poland) [Photos] [Video] [Video]
    • 2016 UCLA Futures of History Conference: "The Futures of History: What Do We See and Envision?" (Los Angeles, CA, USA)


    C. Phil., History, UCLA,  2018
    M.A., History, UCLA, 2017
    B.A., History and International Affairs, Economics Minor, George Washington University, 2012