Elizabeth Dyer


Ph.D. History, University of Pennsylvania, December 2017

M.A. History, University of Pennsylvania, 2012

B.A. summa cum laude History and Anthropology, University of Virginia, 2007


I am an historian of Modern African history who is drawn to the aesthetics and performances of everyday life.  My current research projects historicize the roles of dreams, dramas, and films in twentieth-century East Africa.

My book manuscript, Dramatic License: The Politics of Theater in Colonial Kenya, 1895-1964, describes how theater was woven into several of the most significant political moments in twentieth-century Kenya.  From the stage, disenfranchised people of color reinvented themselves as performers and fashioned themselves into political actors, all within the context of a white settler colony attempting to foreclose the possibilities of African enfranchisement and self-rule. The resulting account brings expressive culture to bear on Kenyan History, widening conventional understandings of race in colonial East Africa by animating a multi-ethnic democratic style of discourse, decades before it was thought to exist.

My new research project, Colonizing Sleep, investigates the historical duality between “African time” and “European time.” This work will reconstruct the history of sleep practices and dream discourse in East Africa over the long 20th century.  My preliminary evidence suggests that sleep disturbances functioned as sites of creative subversion in colonial and postcolonial East Africa. This theory draws on research into legal and literary histories as well as colonial-era sleep studies. 

Steven Feierman (doctoral advisor)
Eve Troutt Powell
Kathleen Brown
Joseph Miller (outside committee member)



Research Interests: 

Modern and Early African History, East African Social History, Cultural History, World History, Comparative History of Africa and the Middle East, Indian Ocean World History, History of Theatre and Film, Urban history

Selected Publications: 

"Whitewashing African Film Sets: King Solomon’s Mines and Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams, 1947-2015." 2016. The African Studies Review 59 (3): In press.

Other Affiliations: 

History and political philosophy instructor at the Leadership for a Diverse America Summer Institute at Princeton University.  Instructorship, 2016-

Visiting Scholar, Kenyatta University. Nairobi, Kenya, 2013-2014

Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellow, 2013-2014

American Historical Association, Bernadotte Schmitt Research Grantee, 2014

Phi Beta Kappa, 2007