Fofana, Idriss

Field: International and Global; Advisor: Zelin; Year: 2014

Idriss Fofana is a Ph.D. candidate in international and global history at Columbia University and a JD graduate of Yale Law School. He is currently the Reginald F. Lewis Fellow at Harvard Law School.

Idriss specializes in the history of international law and other forms of inter-polity order in Asia and Africa since the eighteenth century. His work spans the fields of modern Chinese history, the modern history of Atlantic Africa, as well as the history of twentieth-century anti-colonial and Third World movements.

His dissertation is titled “Civilizing Labor: A Global Legal History of Chinese and West African Labor Migration, 1860-1930.” This project examines Chinese and West African efforts to shape regional and international norms governing labor and migration in the wake of the Euro-American movement to abolish slavery. The spread of anti-slavery norms upturned existing labor recruitment networks in the Senegal River Basin and the Pearl River Valley, which relied on coercive practices that Western governments now prohibited. As a result, imperial powers, indigenous political authorities, and labor-source communities competed to set and to enforce new rules for the lawful recruitment of Asian and African laborers for Western enterprises. Drawing on sources in five languages from archives on three continents, this project shows how the resulting legal regimes structured encounters between Chinese and West African laborers on imperial worksites, and how those encounters, in turn, influenced Chinese and West African critiques of Western norms and imperial governance.

Idriss’s work has been funded by the Mellon Foundation/Council on Library and Information Resources Fellowship for Research in Original Sources, a Fulbright Student Scholarship, the American Society for Legal History, and various grants from Columbia and Yale universities. 

In addition to conducting scholarly research, Idriss has participated in litigation and advocacy on matters of immigration, citizenship, and national security. He has also worked in the public international law and international arbitration practices of major law firms.

Originally from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Idriss earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and spent a year as a China Scholarship Council post-baccalaureate fellow at Zhejiang University.