New Faculty: Rachel Sandwell

Rachel Sandwell

Assistant Professor, History

Academic focus:

Transnational women’s and gender history, African history, histories of decolonization

Current research project: 

I am wrapping up my first book, “National Fantasies: Gender and the Making of South Africa,” which looks at women’s contributions to the South African national liberation movement and the global anti-apartheid movement, in the decades when South Africans and their international supporters mobilized to defeat the apartheid government. The book argues that women were active participants and that transforming gender relations was a major part of the project to liberate South Africa.

I am also working on a new project that looks at the experience of refugees during wars for national liberation in southern Africa in the 1960s-1980s. During these anti-colonial wars, many thousands of people were displaced, and newly-independent African states and the exiled national liberation movements found themselves responsible for providing care and support to them. At the same time, international NGOs and inter-governmental organizations expanded rapidly and began to work closely with these governments and liberation movements. Global development is a massive industry today -- this research will show how tangled its early days were with decolonization and national liberation struggles. 

Previous positions:

  • Faculty Lecturer, Department of History and Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, McGill University, Canada, 2019-2023
  • Affiliate Assistance Professor, Department of History, Concordia University, Canada, 2017-2019
  • Post-Doctoral Fellow, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), South Africa, 2015-2017

Academic background:

  • Ph.D., History, McGill University, 2015
  • M.Sc., Anthropology and development studies, London School of Economics, 2007
  • B.A., Honours Anthropology, McGill University, 2005

Last book read:

Last academic book read: “Written Out: The Silencing of Regina Twala” by Joel Cabrita

Last recreational book read: “The Namesake” Jhumpa Lahiri

In your own time/when not working:

Reading, walking in the woods and having fun with my partner and our 8-year-old daughter

Courses you’re most looking forward to teaching:

I am developing a new course this fall, Freedom Struggles in Southern Africa. The course is going to look at the intellectual and practical work that freedom fighters, activists, and intellectuals have done to imagine and create a just and free society in southern Africa in the past few centuries. We will read political texts but also novels, memoirs and films, to explore this region’s rich tradition of debates around freedom and justice. I am really looking forward to it!

What most excites you about Cornell:

Amazing colleagues and busy and exciting research environment!

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