Michelle M. Pinto

Visiting Scholar

Michelle M. Pinto is a Teaching Fellow in the Benjamin Franklin Scholars Integrated Studies Program in the College of Arts & Sciences and a Visiting Scholar in the Department of History.

Office: 308A College Hall

Email:  pintomi@sas.upenn.edu

Research Interests: 

Pinto received her Ph.D. in History & French Studies from New York University, where her dissertation research on the decolonization of French Africa in the twentieth century was funded by awards including the Fulbright Scholarship to France and the Robert Holmes Research Award for African Scholarship. Her research cuts across European history, African/African diaspora history, and global history.

Pinto is engaged in a book manuscript project entitled "France and the Construction of African Nation-States: Africanization in Postwar French Africa, 1946-1966." This study is the first to analyze the origins of Africanization, and the centrality of this process to the reconfigured France-Africa relationship that marked the independence era. Its objective is to evaluate more concretely the precise mechanisms by which decolonization and the construction of a post-colonial relationship between France and its African colonies took place during these crucial years of transition.

To this end, it examines both the contested Africanization process and the education and career trajectories of two thousand Africans trained in France at the prestigious Colonial School and the Ecole nationale d'administration (ENA) and slated to occupy key positions as upper-level civil servants in their new nations. It also explores the extensive range of administrative schools and programs established for this purpose across France and Africa.

As a future-oriented policy imperative, Africanization resulted in the creation of a constellation of institutions and a widespread, mobile network of individuals-- a transnational elite for French Africa. It thus enabled France to establish what would become a font of French education, knowledge, and resources that endured long into the post-colonial period. By assessing France's precise role in shaping the human capital that constituted the very structure of the African states, Pinto offers a more nuanced manner of examining French "neo-colonialism," the ways in which contemporary African societies were indelibly--but specifically, through individuals and institutions--marked by the post-colonial French presence.

Courses Taught: 


As a Teaching Fellow, Pinto team-teaches the Benjamin Franklin Scholars Integrated Studies Program course in the College of Arts & Sciences. This innovative, interdisciplinary, full-year course for honors students meets daily, with integrated science, social science, and humanities components each semester:

Fall 2014 "Representations of Reality" - Chemistry/Art History/Classics
Spring 2015 "Cosmologies and Constitutions" - Political Science/Physics/Literature
Fall 2015 "Identity, Inheritance, Change" - Anthropology/Classics
Spring 2016 "Decisions and Learning" - Cognitive Neuroscience/Philosophy
Fall 2016 "Body, Image, Spirit" - Religious Studies/Art History
Spring 2017 "Human Morality and Emotions" - Evolutionary Psychology/Philosophy

In this program, Pinto's integrative lectures and seminar teaching continuously navigate a range of disciplinary perspectives and methodologies.  For example, in one unit of the Fall 2015 course, "Identity, Inheritance, Change," she gave the week's Classics/Anthropology integrative lecture on "Social Relations," viewed through the lens of conceptions of "home" and "community."  She examined the meaning of these notions in ancient Greek culture, as portrayed in Homer's Odyssey (Classics), in juxtaposition with an analysis of modern nationalism according to Benedict Anderson's famous argument about "imagined communities" (Anthropology).  Likewise, in a unit of the Spring 2016 course, "Decisions and Learning," she gave the week's Cognitive Neuroscience/Philosophy integrative lecture on the notion of "Failure," investigated through the reward prediction error as a critical teaching signal in the dopamine system (Cognitive Neuroscience), in conversation with a philosopher's call to radically revise our conceptions of "success" and "failure" and the social and educational structures that perpetuate them (Philosophy).

As a historian and social scientist in this program, Pinto has had the opportunity to rethink concepts fundamental to, and debated within, her own field-- such as human agency, objectivity, and evidence-- in conversation with, and by learning from, senior Penn scholars across the disciplines.


Pinto's history teaching explores colonization and decolonization in the French empire and comparatively across empires, in particular questions of citizenship, race, and migration. Her teaching is also deeply engaged in developing the dynamic field of early modern and modern global history (c.1450-present), which she taught for several years prior to coming to Penn.

Pinto conceives global history not as a survey of various regions of the world at different moments in time, but rather as a history of the collaborative and conflictual interactions and relationships constructed over time among the world’s peoples. Her global history course investigates the trans-continental and trans-oceanic networks put into place to produce or resist such relationships. This course spans the European overseas explorations, inception of captialism, and creation of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the sixteenth century through decolonization and the Cold War in the twentieth century.  She interweaves analysis of such global-scale processes with the crucial specificity gained from micro-level study. For instance, in studying the Age of Revolution, students immerse themselves for three weeks in the local developments that constituted the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions, while simultaneously assessing the ways in which these revolutions were tightly linked at a global level through imperial structures-- both socio-economically and through the circulation of people and political ideas in the Atlantic world.

Pinto's courses also encourage students to learn history from institutions embedded in their midst. In New York, for example, her global history students explored the forging of a world economy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition, "The Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800" and investigated nineteenth-century global labor migration at the community-based Museum of Chinese in America.  

Ultimately, Pinto seeks to inspire students to interrogate their understandings of themselves and of the society in which they live, particularly with regard to their conceptions of identity, difference, and equality; and in terms of the structures within which they build their lives.

Other Affiliations: 

Pinto has given recent invited research presentations at the Maison Française of New York University (http://maisonfrancaise.as.nyu.edu/object/lmf-14-cooper.html); at Columbia University's "Beyond France" University Seminar; at Johns Hopkins University's Roundtable Event, "New Directions in Twentieth-Century Histories of Sub-Saharan Africa"; and at the University of Pennsylvania's Africa Center.