Marcia C. Schenck




PhD research:                        

Dissertation research in progress: 

From Africa to East Germany and Back: Uncovering Life Experiences of Transnational Mozambican and Angolan Migrants During and After the Cold War.

My dissertation is about migration from Angola and Mozambique to East Germany during the Cold War. Political and economic relations between the Second World and the Third World opened up migration routes to young African men and women to work and study abroad and to gain the skills with which to develop their nascent post-colonial home nations. It uses life histories collected from former workers and students and illustrates their experiences at home and abroad in a global (socialist) world as well as the legacy of their migration. It argues that the experiences were more diverse than current scholarship suggests. Shifting the focus from the state to the people allows for a nuanced view of these labor and educational migrations and highlights topics of importance to the people involved such as migration decisions, leisure time, emotional relationships, and racism. Examining the life experiences of those who temporarily migrated northwards reveals the human side of these socialist migration regimes. My dissertation connects the migrants memories to wider considerations about political and economic relationships between three socialist states during the expansion and contraction of socialism and thereby situates Africa in global history and contributes to the study of African relations to the East and to the migration for development discussion.

This research is funded by the History Department at Princeton University, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, and the Research Fellowship at the National Library of Portugal (FLAD‑BNP). I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Mercator Fellowship.  Many thanks to my colleagues at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Humboldt University in Berlin, and the directors and staff of the Angolan National Archives in Luanda, and the Portuguese National Library in Lisbon for providing advice and institutional homes during my research.

Additional research projects:

“My colleagues say I am still walking the walk of Angela Merkel” – Angolan students in East Germany: legacies and memories

This research project discusses the memories of Angolan students who spent part of their higher education studying towards a degree in East Germany. Based on interviews with returned students a quarter century after their return to Angola, I examine how they remember their time in the German Democratic Republic, what legacies remain of their socialist education, what skills they were able to apply after their return, in how far German networks were influential in their career-building, and what ties continue to bind them to Germany.

"Cross-continental sojourners: chasing education abroad to foster development back home, African manpower development 1960-2000"

My next project grows out of my dissertation research in that it continues to pursue the study of African education and labor migrations in the second half of the twentieth century. In turning to the history of international organizations I change my approach and by selecting case studies spanning the continent from Ghana in the West to Kenya in the East and Zimbabwe in the South I expand my focus area. I am no longer interested in bilateral migration programs but seek to understand the scale on which international organizations such as the International Organization for Migration, the International Labor Organization, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees operated in Africa with the rationale to counter “brain drain” by supporting the reintegration of indigenous skill from abroad. This will be the first historical study of international organizations’ roles in managing skilled migration from and back to Africa. It will further take a novel approach to the study of international organizations as it combines interviews with program beneficiaries and staff with a reading of the central and regional archives of relevant international organizations with a goal of steering away from an institutional reading of international migration management.

MSc research:


“Land struggles and identity – comparative case studies of San self-representation in southern Africa”


This thesis focuses on the historical interplay between land, representation and identity formation in two disparate and heterogeneous San communities which reinvented themselves to mobilize around land and resource access. Informed by studies of the late colonial period, the thesis focuses on post-independence approaches to land politics amongst the Hai||om of Namibia and the ‡Khomani of South Africa up to the present. Tracing historical processes concerning land access, it argues that land helped shape the differential formulation of identity in these communities. The politics of land have functioned as a crucible through which many San and those of San descent have refashioned and mobilised their ethnic identities and self-representation. By vocalizing ethnic membership, grounded in a claim to historicity and First Peoples status, San communities commodified their identity to serve as a legitimate moral claim to resource access and to kindle pride in their identity.

The diverging land access strategies employed by the Hai||om and the ‡Khomani today reflect the possibilities availed to them in their independent nations: the Hai||om’s emphasis on the political route to land access is as much a reflection of Namibia’s political structures as the ‡Khomani’s reliance on lawfare reveals the South African approach to land reform through restitution.  Most Hai||om portray their ongoing land claims as justified with regard to their present socio-economic disenfranchisement and the unequal land distribution resulting from the colonial homeland policies. The Khomani based their land rights claim (1995-2002) on the principle of restitution and First Peoples status in the new South Africa. While the struggle for land and resource access continues to be the most salient ethnic marker for the Hai||om, the ‡Khomani define themselves primarily via common landownership. However, both groups continue to battle with the formulation of an inclusive identity, membership issues, a leadership impasse and hindered development.


The research takes an interdisciplinary approach with a strong focus on historical methods, including archival and oral history sources, participant observation and collaborative photographic work with the San, to illuminate why and how these two San groups received land. Understanding the intersections of land, representation and identity among San communities also provides insights into other indigenous communities which, like the San, experience leadership struggles, intense poverty and marginalization.

Dissertation, MSc in African Studies

Oxford University, May 2010

This research was supported by the African Studies Department, Oxford and St. Anne's College, Oxford.

Honors research:


Land, Water, Truth and Love

Visions of Identity and Land Access:

From Bain's Bushmen to ‡Khomani San



This thesis situates the current ‡Khomani claims to land in their historical context. Examining the nexus between land, economic choices, power, and identity, I analyze the construction of the "Bushman myth "in South Africa as it relates to the ‡Khomani San of the Northern Cape. The myth refers to stereotypical depictions of “Bushmen” based on invented traditions. These traditions are depicted as atavistic manifestations of a historically immutable Bushman ethnicity. Stressing their timelessness and isolation, the Bushman myth thus disregards the San’s internal dialectics and fluid social worlds as well as their historical and local relationships to non-San; nevertheless it has come to define the life of the so-called Bain’s Bushmen and their descendants during the last 80 years. By tracing the development, application, and appropriation of the Bushman myth and its power to define traditions, I hope to contribute towards a much-needed discussion in the present about multiple identities and ‡Khomani ethnicity.


Motivated by a desire to understand the difficulties the ‡Khomani community is facing today, I set out to trace the development of San identity and its relationship to land and the political economy through the past 150 years. My thesis is based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the Northern Cape in South Africa from Cape Town to Upington and on the ‡Khomani land in January and summer 2008. I conducted 42 unstructured and semi-structured interviews with community members and others ranging from lawyers, government officials, to NGO consultants, and engaged in participant observation. The archival work is based on government records, newspaper articles, correspondence, and ethnographic studies collected in six South African archives.

BA thesis, summa cum laude in history

Mount Holyoke College, December 2008

This research was generously supported by:

Almara Grants, History Department, Mount Holyoke College (MHC)

Global Studies Summer Fellowship, McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, Weissman Center Leadership Grant, Weissman Center for the Leadership and the Liberal Arts, MHC