Stephens, Rhiannon


Office Hours

Spring 2024ON LEAVE



Ph.D. (History) - Northwestern University, 2007
M.A. (Climate & Society) - Columbia University, 2021
M.A. (History) - Northwestern University, 2002
B.A. Hons. (Swahili & History) - School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 2000


Interests and Research

Rhiannon Stephens specializes in the history of precolonial and early colonial East Africa from the first millennium CE through the twentieth century. She is the author of Poverty and Wealth in East Africa: A Conceptual History (Duke University Press, 2022), an interdisciplinary history of how people living in eastern Uganda have sustained and changed their ways of thinking about wealth and poverty over the past two thousand years. Her first monograph, A History of African Motherhood: The Case of Uganda, 700-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 2013), traced the history of motherhood as a social institution and an ideology across over a millennium of Ugandan political, economic and social change. She is the co-editor of Doing Conceptual History in Africa (Berghahn Books, 2018), which critically examines what it means to write conceptual history on the continent. Her current research is a collaborative project that focuses on questions of gender, power, and climate over fifteen-hundred years on the east coast of Africa. Her work has been published in the American Historical Review, the Journal of African History, Past and Present, and African Studies Review.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Stephens came to Columbia in 2011, where she has served as in the Arts and Sciences as chair of the Junior Faculty Advisory Board (2018-19) and as chair of the Policy and Planning Committee (2021-22), as well as serving as a member of those and many more committees at the Arts and Sciences and university-wide level. At the graduate level she trains students interested in writing the deep history of Africa using interdisciplinary methods, as well as students working on modern East African history and African gender history. In 2019-20, she was awarded the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for exceptional teaching.



  • C1020 African Civilization (Global Core)
  • UN2761 Gender and Sexuality in African History (Global Core)
  • UN2764 East African History (Global Core)
  • UN3012 Uganda in the Mission Archive
  • UN3712 African Climate and History
  • UN3769 History of Health and Healing in Africa
  • UN3789 Histories of Poverty in Africa
  • GR8760 Precolonial African Historiography
  • GR8761 Historiography of Africa 
  • GR8770 Household and Family in African History



  • The Davis Center for Historical Studies, Princeton University, 2022-23
  • Provost’s Grant to Mid-Career Faculty, 2022
  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship, 2020-2022
  • Columbia Distinguished Faculty Award, 2020
  • Heyman Center Fellowship, The Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Columbia University, 2016-17
  • Honorable Mention, African Studies Association Bethwell A. Ogot Prize for the best book on East African Studies, for A History of African Motherhood: The Case of Uganda, 700-1900, 2014
  • MacDonald Summer Fellow, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University
  • Past and Present Society Post-doctoral research fellowship, 2008-09
  • Presidential Society of Fellows, Northwestern University, 2005-07



  • Faculty Fellow, Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University
  • Member, African Studies Association
  • Member, American Historical Association
  • Member, British Institute in Eastern Africa
  • Institute of African Studies, Columbia University