Africa historian Emily Osborn uses a variety of methodological tools and approaches to study the continent's past. Her book project, Making States: Power, Gender, and Colonial Rule in Kankan-Baté, West Africa, 1650 - 1920 (Forthcoming, The Ohio University Press), draws heavily on oral sources to study the history of gender and state-craft in Kankan-Baté, an Islamic state founded in the seventeenth century in present-day Guinea-Conakry and incorporated into the French colonial empire in 1891. This project traces changes in the way that men and women made states in the pre-colonial period through periods of peace and warfare; it then considers how French gender ideologies shaped colonialism and the operation of the colonial state.
Osborn’s next book project, Recycling Traditions: Aluminum Casting and the Making of a Modern African Diaspora, is a trans-national social and cultural history of technology transfer and diffusion. It concentrates specifically on aluminum casting a technique used by artisans to recycle and melt down scrap aluminum and form it into the stuff of daily life: cooking pots, spoons, tea-pots and parts for cars and bicycles. The diffusion of this craft through West Africa in the aftermath of World War II sheds light on an important sector of the informal economy, as well as on the migrations of peoples and ideas in colonial and post-colonial Africa. Osborn spent the year 2005-2006 conducting research on this project in Côte d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Guinea-Conakry, Mali, Sénégal, and Sierra Leone.
She earned her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. Osborn’s research has been supported by Fulbright IIE and Fulbright- Hays fellowships. She was also a Mellon Fellow at the Institute for Global Studies at The Johns Hopkins University. Before coming to the University of Chicago, she taught at the University of Notre Dame.