Samuel Daly: How African History Helped Shape the Modern World

Part of the Introducing the New Faculty, 2017 Series
New faculty member Samuel F. Daly has traced the far-flung influences of East Africans and how they have in different ways shaped the modern world.
New faculty member Samuel F. Daly has traced the far-flung influences of East Africans.

Historically, some have viewed soldiers deserting the battlefield during war as an extreme act of cowardice, dishonor and shame. Samuel Fury Childs Daly, the newest member of Duke’s Department of African & African American Studies, takes a different view.

Daly, an assistant professor of African history, says desertion has another side. It created new social orders and generated new ideas about honor and obligation.

“When soldiers leave battlefields, they eventually settle somewhere, and ‘deserters’ of various types have founded new communities across the continent over the course of the last three centuries,” said Daly, who studies the history of military desertion in Africa.

The project analyzes the ways desertion has been practiced and viewed in various African wars, providing a new perspective on some of the central themes in African history.

The themes include how honor functions as a social ideology; the measurement of political power in African societies; and how crisis, opportunism and ethical conviction led people to create new ways of living.

As a historian of 20th-century Nigeria and Tanzania, Daly’s research interests include law, crime and the social history of war. His book manuscript, “Sworn on the Gun: Law and Crime in the Nigerian Civil War,” connects the Nigeria-Biafra War of the late 1960’s to the larger history of crime in postcolonial Nigeria. In it, he reviews legal records from the secessionist Republic of Biafra, oral histories and the archives of international organizations to trace how armed robbery, fraud and forgery became means of survival during Nigeria’s civil war.

Prior to coming to Duke, Daly was a postdoctoral fellow at the Rutgers University Center for Historical Analysis in New Brunswick, N.J. His recent work can be found in African Affairs, and the Journal of African History, among other journals.

Daly received a Ph.D. in African history from Columbia University in 2017. He also holds an M.A. from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and an M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Marshall Scholar.

At Duke, Daly is teaching “Modern Africa,” an undergraduate course that gives an overview of African history from the trans-Atlantic slave period to the present. Through lectures, primary and secondary readings, and discussion, the course explores a set of related questions about Africa’s recent past: How did outside forces such as imperialism shape life on the continent? What political philosophies have animated African politics? The course, which satisfies major requirements for African and African American Studies, History, and International Comparative Studies, includes a site visit to the African art collections at the North Carolina Museum of Art and a meal at a local Kenyan restaurant.

He plans to offer other courses on topics across African history including a “deep” history of the continent before colonialism, African science and technology and African warfare. He is also developing an undergraduate course on East Africa and the world over the last 500 years exploring the areas linked to the region by trade, migration and politics. Daly is interested in how East Africans have shaped the history of far-flung places where they lived and worked.

In his classes Daly combines narrative approaches to the African past with broader lessons about historical epistemology, theories of social change and research methodology.

“The world that we inhabit is very profoundly marked by events in the African past – including the transatlantic slave trade and the history of European colonialism,” Daly said. “Studying African studies at Duke gives students the tools to understand those events, not only in history or in African history but how they shape the 21st century world in which we live today.”