Caroline Elkins

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Caroline Elkins (born 1969) is a professor of history and African and African American Studies at Harvard University, a visiting professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, and the founding director of Harvard's Center for African Studies.[1][2]

Her book, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya (2005), won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. It was also the basis for successful claims by former Mau Mau detainees against the British government for crimes committed in the detention camps of Kenya in the 1950s.[3]


Elkins majored in history at Princeton, graduating summa cum laude before moving to Harvard for her master's and doctorate. Her historical methodology, which includes use of written sources as well as ethnographic field work and oral interviews, has led to major revisions in the fields of African and British imperial histories, and has also generated significant criticism, particularly from conservative academics. Elkins' Harvard PhD was concerned with the detention system employed by the British colonial authorities during the Mau Mau Uprising, and served as the basis of the 2002 BBC documentary, Kenya: White Terror, in which Elkins and her fieldwork were both profiled. Kenya: White Terror won the International Red Cross Award at the Monte Carlo Film Festival.[4][5] Elkins's dissertation provided the foundation for her 2005 publication, Imperial Reckoning, which was met with critical acclaim in newspapers and magazines around the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The Economist. In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2006, Imperial Reckoning was named a book of the year by The Economist and an editors' choice by The New York Times, and was a finalist for the Lionel Gelber Prize.[6] In its commendation of Elkins, the Pulitzer Prize Committee wrote: "Imperial Reckoning is history of the highest order: meticulously researched, brilliantly written, and powerfully dramatic. An unforgettable act of historical re-creation, it is also a disturbing reminder of the brutal imperial precedents that continue to inform Western nations in their drive to democratize the world."[7]

Elkins has been a professor at Harvard University since she completed her doctoral degree in Harvard's history department in 2001. She received full tenure in 2009, and subsequently became the founding director of Harvard's Center for African Studies. She was appointed the Oppenheimer Faculty Director and in her six years as director created one of the world's largest institutions for the study of Africa, raising significant funds and garnering from the US Department of Education's the distinction as a National Resource Center for African Studies.[8][9] Elkins currently teaches courses on modern Africa, protest in East Africa, human rights in Africa, and British colonial violence in the 20th century.

In 2009, Imperial Reckoning served as the basis for an unprecedented legal claim filed by five Mau Mau detention camp survivors against the British colonial government, and Elkins became the claimants' first expert witness before being joined by other historians in late 2010 and 2011. The case, known as Mutua and Five Others versus the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), was heard at the High Court of Justice in London with the Honourable Justice McCombe presiding. London human rights law firm Leigh Day and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) in Nairobi were the claimants' legal representatives. During the course of legal discovery the FCO discovered some 300 boxes of previously undisclosed files that validated on a large scale Elkins' claims in Imperial Reckoning and provided thousands of pages of new evidence supporting the claimants' case of gross abuses perpetrated by British colonial officials in the detention camps of Kenya in the 1950s.[10] On June 6, 2013, the British government announced a settlement with the Mau Mau claimants, issuing its official apology of "sincere regret," a £20 million cash payment, and a monument to those tortured under British rule, unveiled in Nairobi's Uhuru Park in 2015.[11][12]

Selected works[edit]

  • Elkins, Caroline (2011). "Alchemy of Evidence: Mau Mau, the British Empire, and the High Court of Justice". The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. 39 (5): 731–748. doi:10.1080/03086534.2011.629084.
  • Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. New York, NY: Henry Holt. 2005.
  • (Co-editor with Susan Pedersen). Settler Colonialists in the 20th Century: Projects, Practices, Legacies. New York, NY: Routledge. 2005.
  • "Detention, Rehabilitation, and the Destruction of Kikuyu Society". In A. Odhiambo & J. Lonsdale, eds., Mau Mau and Nationhood: Arms, Authority and Narration. Oxford: James Currey. 2003. pp. 191–226.
  • Elkins, Caroline (2000). "The Struggle for Mau Mau Rehabilitation in Late Colonial Kenya". International Journal of African Historical Studies. 33 (1): 25–57. JSTOR 220257.(subscription required)
  • Elkins, Caroline (2000). "Reckoning with the Past: The Contrast between the Kenyan and South African Experiences". Social Dynamics. 26 (2): 8–28. doi:10.1080/02533950008458693.(subscription required)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History Department Faculty: Caroline Elkins". Archived from the original on 7 November 2012. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
  2. ^ "Caroline M. Elkins - Faculty - Harvard Business School". Retrieved 2019-07-06.
  3. ^ Parry, Marc (2016-08-18). "Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire | Marc Parry". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-07-06.
  4. ^ "Press Award in Monte Carlo". The Magazine of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  5. ^ "Kenya: White Terror". YouTube. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  6. ^ "Faculty Home Page". =Harvard University Department of History. Archived from the original on 14 August 2013. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  7. ^ "Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya". Pulitzer Prize Committee. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  8. ^ "Elkins receives named appointment at Center for African Studies". 6 July 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  9. ^ "Caroline Elkins named professor of history". Harvard Gazette. October 2009. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  10. ^ Cobain, Ian; Norton-Taylor, Richard (18 April 2012). "Sins of colonialists lay concealed for decades in secret archive". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  11. ^ "Mau Mau abuse victims to get payouts". 6 June 2013. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  12. ^ "Kenya Unveils Memorial to Those Tortured During British Rule". VOA. September 12, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]