About Prof. Jennifer Hart
I am an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan (USA), where I teach African History, World History, and Comparative Colonial History. Prior to coming to Wayne State, I taught at Goshen College. I received my MA and PhD from Indiana University, and my BA from Denison University. My own interdisciplinary and geographically comparative education influences the way I teach–drawing not only on History, but also Anthropology, Sociology, Geography, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Economics, Political Science, Art History, and Ethnomusicology.
My research explores the social, cultural, political, and economic significance of the “mundane” or “everyday” experiences and practices of Africans. I have spent the last 10 years conducting research in Ghana (West Africa) and London. Most of that work has been focused in Accra, Ghana, where I have conducted archival and ethnographic research on the history of African automobility, urban planning, and development. My first book, Ghana on the Go: African Mobility in the Age of Motor Transportation, traces how different groups of Ghanaians shaped a distinct culture of automobility that reflected both the influence of foreign technological cultures and the socioeconomic priorities of African residents throughout the 20th century. I argue that early African appropriation of motor transportation technology and its subsequent expansion as an important economic sector, both as a niche for African entrepreneurs and as a primary mode of public transportation for both passengers and goods, allowed Africans in the Gold Coast/Ghana to have greater role in defining what autonomy and mobility meant and how it was exercised in the 20th century. The space created by automobile technologies was particularly important in the 20th century, when agents of colonialism and neocolonialism sought to undermine Africans’ power in determining their own future. In the process, I challenge dominant narratives about the global significance of automobility–the cultures, values, and practices associated with the rise of the automobile–and technological development. I argue that challenging these dominant narratives forces us to think differently not only about the role of Africans in relation to global processes, but it also raises questions about what automobility and technological development mean in the West and the ways in which the perceived hegemonic culture of automobility plays out in the everyday lived experiences of citizens. In other words, why and how do cars matter? And what does our particular culture of automobility assume? Who is included and who is left out? And why?–questions that I feel confronted with every day, living in the heart of the “Motor City”. In addition to my scholarly work, I keep track of relevant issues in news and popular culture on this blog and on Twitter @DetroittoAccra
I’m also currently developing this research into a Digital Humanities project called “Accra Mobile”–an interactive digital map of the trotro system in Accra, Ghana. Keep track of that project’s development here and on Twitter @accramobile!
The path to this research was long and winding–from “mainline” Christian churches to market women to trotros. And the path continues to lead to new projects on public health, sanitation, opposition politics, and urban planning. Underlying it all is a question about what “development” means.
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