Frederick Cooper


New York University

Frederick Cooper's early research focused on questions of slavery and labor in 19th- and 20th- century East Africa, the subject of a trilogy of his books. In studying interaction and conflict in specific locations, he became increasingly interested in the shifting nature of colonial thinking and practices that went into these processes. This new direction led to a book on the relationship of social change and conflict to decolonization in French and British Africa as well as a comparative project begun in the late 1980s with anthropologist Ann Stoler. Cooper and Stoler organized an international conference on colonialism in 1989 and published an edited book, Tensions of Empire, in 1997. Cooper's interest in social theory led him to write a series of articles critical of some of the key concepts widely used in the social sciences and humanities–identity, modernity, and globalization. These and other essays have been collected in his book Colonialism in Question; he also edited with Randall Packard a book on development and the social sciences. Meanwhile, another track was developing, this one coming out of teaching at the University of Michigan (1982-2001) and since then at NYU. Having for many years taught courses not only on Africa, but on social theory, colonialism, and other broad topics, he began to collaborate with Jane Burbank on a graduate course that sought to counter both the national and the modern bias of most historical studies, via a study of the most durable form of political organization in world history–empires. After bringing this course to NYU, Cooper and Burbank put together a lecture course on empires for beginning undergraduates through the MAP program. Teaching this course in turn encouraged Cooper and Burbank to write a book on empires in world history, published in 2010. It won the World History Association prize for 2011 and is being translated into five languages.

Cooper has continued to do extensive archival research, the fruits of which are going into the book he is currently completing on citizenship in France and French Africa, 1945-1960. He has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (1990-91, 1995-96, 2002-03), the Wilson Center (1987), the Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio (2006), the Institut d'Etudes Avancées de Nantes (2009), and the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin (2010-11). He has also been a visiting professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, the Ecole Normale Supérieure, and Université de Paris VII. His work has been supported by National Endowment for the Humanities, Guggenheim, ACLS, and other fellowships. His book From Slaves to Squatters won the Herskovits Prize of the African Studies Association. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001. In 2011 he presented the annual Marc Bloch lecture at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and the Thomas Hodgkin Memorial Lecture at Oxford University. In 2012 he delivered the McMillan-Stewart lectures at Harvard University.