Teresa Paterson -Senior Thesis on the Mau Mau in Colonial Kenya


What motivated you to work on/write a thesis on the Mau mau?

For me, I am more passionate about something when I have a personal connection with it and so having friends at Wesleyan who were specifically from Kenya, I had already had conversations with them about living in Kenya and what they felt about Kenyan identity, Kenyan patriotism and so talking to them about that and then also learning about Kenyan history specifically in some of my classes and so I got interested in how the past can influence identity today and so once I learned about the Mau Mau and the rebellion, I was really intrigued by thinking about how Mau Mau might have implications in Kenyan society beyond affecting the way history has unfolded and also looking at how people think of themselves as Kenyans

What are these classes that have Kenyan history?

For me the one that incorporated the most of Kenyan history was modern Africa with Prof. Twagira and I had also taken a class in high school on world history, which had specifically touched on Mau Mau and so I ended up doing a research project in my history seminar class, History 362, and that’s where I decided to focus more of my research into.

How was the research for your thesis? Was it hectic? Did you actually find information because when I do research on Kenyan history I never find anything online.

It was definitely hectic and I would say also that my research was kind of separated into two main things: the research that I did in Kenya was in the archives or in interviews and then i did a lot of research afterwards reading books, articles, random newspaper reports, magazines, articles, so that stuff was kinda more like your typical research which I was more comfortable with, because I’ve done it before, But I can say doing research in Kenya was a bit more difficult only because i had never been there before and so I didn’t necessarily know how things worked, such as getting around the city and even the basics, and it was also my first experience in an archive and so i had to figure out how to find documents I needed out of the thousands of papers that they have, so that was really hard.  For the interviews, it was really difficult to try and reach out to people and try to get them to share their thoughts and experiences with me when they had never met me. I mean they don’t know me, why should they talk to me, and so even if they were super welcoming, I had to get out of my comfort zone in order to do that.

Did you say it that your research was mostly difficult in Kenya?Did you face the same intensity of difficulty while doing research in the US?

It was difficult outside of Kenya for different reasons, because there has been so much written about it in different ways and so it was really hard to do all this research and get all this information and find a way to think about it when you already have so much to think about it either through secondary sources, the newspaper articles in the past, the reports today about the past or novels or films. There is just so much information and so it was kind of intimidating to even figure out where I was going to start or how I was going to incorporate all these different sources to try and formulate an argument when you have so much information. So it was definitely also difficult in a separate way from doing research in Kenya.

Was Wesleyan helpful? The librarians for example?

Yes, I’d say so. I met with them to get some basic things, but I had honestly done a lot of the research on my own in some ways. I found the Wesleyan library website to be very helpful. I mean you can get books from other colleges, and it is so easy to find and search for things that connect directly to you. But they were definitely helpful in terms of figuring out the structural things such as citation problems and finding specific sources for the very particular sources that I wasn’t sure how to get, then they were very helpful.

Do you think the administration could do something to help with that kind of research, because there are certain places which are underrepresented in academia, so do you think Wesleyan could do something to encourage students to be interested or do research in African studies in general?

I would love for that to happen, I think that would be great. I think a basic starting point would be to incorporate a more outside ways of looking at things. For instance, in the history department, majors such as College of Letters, like I considered majoring in C.O.L., but it really focuses a lot on Europe only, so I think it would be really great for majors like that or other majors to actively incorporate things from other cultures, and other ways of thinking of it other than their standard canon of philosophy or literature or something else because if it’s done in such a way, people sometimes don’t know what they’re interested in because they haven’t experienced it and so they don’t try and learn anything and I think it’s so important to go outside of what you know and one might find out that they really like it and explore more. Besides that, the African studies events are great but my friends don’t know about them and so figuring out different ways to advertise. Or a way to advertise beyond the people who would obviously go to these events.

What is your advice to students who are thinking of doing a thesis on the continent?

That’s exciting, I’d tell them to definitely do it because I definitely went in without knowing anyone at the time who was in Kenya, because all my Kenyan friends from Wesleyan were not in Kenya at the time, and yet the experience itself was really fulfilling. And it is really great I think to have access to sources that you wouldn’t get because I was told that I could have gone to the archives in London and looked at the colonial documents, but that wasn’t really what I was looking for and I think that it’s so easy then if you don’t go to the place that you are researching on specifically and only look at outside sources that you sure are comfortable going to, then I think you miss so much exciting information. Its also a new experience, you are meeting new people and seeing a different culture. It’s also very different to study something on books and literature than to actually go to places and talk to people because then you are seeing the society from a different side and it’s a lot more personal, and I think you have a better image and understanding of the society. It’s definitely worth it.

Side note: Having a connection there (in the African country that you will be going to) with someone who can show you things can make your experience 10 times better.

How interested are you in this? Do you plan to continue your work on Mau Mau?

I am done with Mau Mau for now, I think I need a bit of a break,  but I don’t quite know what I’m gonna do in the future so there is a real possibility that if I decide to go get a PhD that I’ll continue doing something connected to my work, but less concretely I am really hoping that whatever I decide to do, I’ll have a job that focuses on Africa, like working in a country like Kenya. I’d really like to do something that has an international focus, so that I can continue to do the African studies that I have been doing here.

Interview by:Claudia Kahindi, Class of ’18.