Given how much David Newbury has contributed to the College (and the Five Colleges), it is remarkable to be reminded that he has been with us for only a decade–but indeed, his much-anticipated appointment to the Gwendolyn Carter chair in African Studies dates only to 2001. How lucky we were to convince such a distinguished scholar and teacher to join the faculty at the peak of his career. (Although his daughter Elizabeth, a Smithie, might also have had something to do with it!)
David was no stranger to liberal arts colleges, having graduated from Williams in 1964, where he studied Political Science and Economics. He subsequently received his M.A.T. degree in Uganda, where he was a secondary school teacher for four years. He began his work as an African historian while residing on the continent, but by the mid-1970s he had returned to graduate school in the United States, receiving his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1977 and 1979, respectively.
From this point on, there was no stopping David. He taught at Wesleyan University and Bowdoin College, and he was a Professeur Associé at the Institut Supérieure Pédagogique in Zaire. From 1986 until 2001, he was on the faculty of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with appointments in History and Anthropology (indeed, he is notable in his use of anthropological and ethnographic perspectives in his historical work). At UNC, as would be the case at Smith, David was honored with a teaching award.
His scholarly accolades were even more numerous, with fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation’s Program on Global Security and Sustainability, the Social Science Research Council, the NEH, and the Fulbright Association. Their support was well founded, given the steady stream of David’s scholarship: Over 45 articles (many co-authored with his wife, Catharine), as many book reviews, and an impressive list of seven books he wrote or co-edited, including one of his most important, Kings and Clans: Ijwi Island and Lake Kiva Rift, 1780-1840 (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991). His most recent book appeared just over a year ago: The Land Beyond the Mists: Essays on Identity and Authority in Pre-Colonial Congo and Rwanda (Ohio University Press). David’s scholarship has centered on this region of Central Africa, examining it from a variety of perspectives: kingship, trade, agrarian life, genocide, ecology, decolonization, and historiography. He is quite unusual in his chronological range, from the pre-colonial to the present.
Recently, David made another contribution to African History, through a particularly generous act. When his good friend, Alison Des Forges, died tragically in a plane crash, David put aside his own work and undertook the editing and publishing of her unpublished Yale doctoral thesis, which has just appeared this year. This collaborative spirit has guided his considerable devotion to the Five College African Studies program, the capstone of which he has taught several times, not to mention his work on behalf of Smith’s own African Studies and Environmental Science and Policy programs. David was also a Five College 40th Anniversary Professor, teaching classes at Mount Holyoke, Amherst, and Hampshire Colleges. Together with Catharine, he served for five years as Book Review Editor of the African Studies Review, yet another Five College project.
David will not rest in retirement. He currently has six projects he hopes to complete, including a study of the recent political history of Central Africa and a long-delayed book on the famine in eastern Rwanda in 1927-28. We still have much to learn from David Newbury.