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Cultural Studies

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Cultural Studies

Katrina Keefer

Adjunct Professor of History
B.A. (Trent University) M.A. Trent University) Ph.D. (York University)


Katrina Keefer is an Adjunct Professor at Trent University. She is a cultural historian who specializes in identity, body marking, slavery, and initiatory societies in West Africa. She is a contributor to the Liberated Africans Project and the Studies in the History of the African Diaspora – Documents (SHADD) projects, both of which engage with biography in the Atlantic world. Keefer is working on a large scale digital humanities project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council on using permanent body marks to better discern origins and birthplace, and is embarking upon related research. She has previously published on scarification, Poro, and identity in Sierra Leone. Her research interests concern comparative slave studies, and deciphering the origins of enslaved individuals. Broadly, they can be considered West African in geographic scope, but more specifically concern matters of biography and identity. Keefer was initially trained as a classicist, and her subsequent research often engages with a contextualized approach to cultural history.  Her first book, Children, Education and Empire in Early Sierra Leone: Left in Our Hands, was published by Routledge's Global Africa series in summer 2018.

Keefer's second book, “Splendid Quests of Golden Fleeces:” W.E.B Du Bois, and the Symbolism and Rhetoric of the Greco-Roman World," has been completed and is under review. The book draws upon her training as a classicist to engage with the foundational Pan-Africanist activist and scholar's life and publications. This book offers an important contextualization to Du Bois's early work, and Keefer analyzes his poetry and prose alike to illustrate Du Bois's influences. Du Bois’s use of classical metaphors and references in his publications and rhetoric is, she argues, not only fuelled by his early experiences, but, over time, became a way of indirectly confronting the white elite of his time by demonstrating his mastery of a cultural context which they assumed was their own. The work relies upon classical studies, the history of education, African-American history, as well as straddling the fields of biography, literature, rhetoric and history. 

Keefer holds both a SSHRC Insight Development Grant and an Insight Grant pertaining to her digital humanities work. She also holds a Hakluyt Society Research Grant and is in the process of transcribing and annotating the archival materials left by a group of intriguing early missionaries for the Church Missionary Society in Sierra Leone. That project will result in a book, entitled "'You are no traders’: The Early Educators of the Church Missionary Society of Sierra Leone in Their Own Words” which will be published by the Hakluyt Society.

Current Interests
Cultural history; body marking; Identity; African history; Classical history; Intellectual history; the history of slavery globally; missionary education and development; representation within games.

Her work has been published in History in Africa, the Journal of West African History, the African Studies Review, and the Canadian journal of African Studies.