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Dr George Roberts

Dr George Roberts

Junior Research Fellow, Trinity College

Trinity College

Cambridge CB2 1TQ


I grew up in the UK and first came to Cambridge to study for my BA in History (2012). I then completed a Masters in European Studies at the College of Europe in Warsaw (2013), before beginning a PhD in History at Warwick (2016). My PhD thesis was shortlisted for the African Studies Association of the UK's Audrey Richards Prize for the best British doctoral thesis, 2016-17. After finishing my studies, I spent a year as a Teaching Fellow at Warwick. In July 2017, I returned to Cambridge to begin a four-year Junior Research Fellowship at Trinity College.

Subject groups/Research projects

World History:

Departments and Institutes

Trinity College:
Junior Research Fellow

Research Interests

I am presently adapting my thesis, entitled 'Politics, decolonisation, and the Cold War in Dar es Salaam, 1965-72' for publication as a monograph. This project pushes further a recent shift in the historiography of the Cold War from a Eurocentric focus to a more global approach, which explores the impact of the superpower rivalry in the Third World. In Africa and Asia, the global Cold War intersected with the other metadynamic of the mid-late twentieth century, decolonisation. Cities like Algiers, Cairo, and Saigon became urban spheres of anticolonial dissent and superpower activity. In Tanzania, President Julius Nyerere's provocative foreign policy and commitment to the cause of African liberation turned Dar es Salaam into a similar political entrepot. An array of local politicians, guerrilla leaders, radical intellectuals, diplomats, and foreign correspondents turned Dar es Salaam into a 'Cold War city': on account of the political gossip that engulfed its bars, streetcorners, and newspaper offices, Nyerere dubbed it 'Rumourville'.

My project situates various entangled case studies within this urban sphere: the glacial rivalry between West and East Germany, Tanzania's experience of the 'global 1968', and the activities of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). These overlapping narratives are nested within a broader history of post-colonial Tanzanian politics, which challenges prevailing nationalist stories that are either tied to the totemic figure of Nyerere or elide high politics altogether. In all instances, I seek to elucidate the role played by often marginalised African actors, who actively shaped the course of the global Cold War and decolonisation. The multilateral approach to politics in Dar es Salaam has led me to conduct archival research and oral interviews in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany (both East and West), the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.

I am currently developing two post-doctoral projects. My main project deals with the trajectory of Marxism in Africa, seen through the biography of Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu, a Zanzibari revolutionary and Tanzanian politician. This book-length project will explore how African intellectuals understood, reworked, and redeployed Marxist theory during the era of decolonisation and the Cold War. The globetrotting career of Babu sets these intellectual arguments into a networked history of anti-colonial activism and post-colonial dissent. It aims to both demonstrate the appeal of Marxism as a popular anti-colonial strategy, attempts by both colonial and post-colonial governments to delegitimise its arguments, and the struggle of African revolutionaries to adapt to the circumstances of economic globalisation, neoliberal reform, and the end of the Cold War.

I am also working on a shorter sub-project on the decolonisation of Comoros. Through a study of the Dar es Salaam-based Mouvement de Libération Nationale des Comores (MOLINACO), this brings together my experience in the history of exiled liberation movements with literature on Indian Ocean cosmopolitanism and questions of citizenship in French decolonisation. It evaluates how MOLINACO, a case of a 'failed' liberation movement, juggled multiple political identities in appealing for international recognition and support within the archipelago - and the success of both conservative Comorian elites and French colonialists in responding to them.

My broader interests include the history of the global South, international affairs in post-colonial Africa, and contemporary politics in eastern Africa, especially Tanzania.

Other Professional Activities

I currently serve as the Postgraduate and Early Career Researcher Representative for the British International History Group.

I tweet @g_m_roberts.

Key Publications

Rumourville: African Liberation and the Cold War in Post-Colonial Dar es Salaam, book manuscript under preparation.

‘Press, propaganda, and the German Democratic Republic’s search for recognition in Tanzania, 1964-1972’, in Philip E. Muehlenbeck and Natalia Telepneva (eds), Warsaw Pact Intervention: Aid and Influence in the Cold War (London: IB Tauris, 2018), 148-72.

'The assassination of Eduardo Mondlane: FRELIMO, Tanzania, and the politics of exile in Dar es Salaam', Cold War History, 17 (2017), 1-19.

'The Uganda-Tanzania War, the fall of Idi Amin, and the failure of African diplomacy, 1978-1979', Journal of Eastern African Studies8 (2014), 692-709.

Other Publications

Review of Étudiants Africains en Mouvements: contribution à une histoire des années 1968, eds Françoise Blum, Pierre Guidi, and Ophélie Rillon, in Social History, 43 (2018), 289-90.

I have written on contemporary Tanzanian politics for the Exeter Imperial and Global History Forum, about Chinese-Tanzanian solidarities (and their enemies) for the Afro-Asian Visions blog, and about the Tanzanian state's responses to economic globalisation for the Durham Centre for Contemporary African History blog.