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Michelle M. Greenfield-Liebst

Michelle M. Greenfield-Liebst
Trinity Hall


Before coming to Cambridge I did my BA and MA King’s College London. My MA was in World History and Cultures and my dissertation unearthed how Christian missionary societies in Africa hired slaves in the late nineteenth century, despite their integral role in the movements to abolish slavery. This research was the basis for an article I published in 2014 (see below). I also read History for my BA. In my final year I wrote a dissertation for the course “Caribbean Intellectual History Since 1800,” in which I explored the anthropological connections between the Americas and Africa through the work of the American Anthropologist, Melville J. Herskovits.

I have personal profiles on, the ESRC DTC, Linked In, and Research Gate.

Research Interests

My PhD (ESRC/CHESS funded) takes a lens to a missionary society called the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) in north-eastern Tanzania and Zanzibar. I focus on the development of the mission from a space of employment to a space of education. I take a broad view of employment and education as I look beyond wage labour and the school. I also consider a broad spectrum of people. All kinds of people became involved with the mission stations, which were nodes in local networks of exchange and power. Accordingly, I take into account all Africans who passed through the mission stations, some of whom adopted Christianity and some of whom did not. My thesis cuts across the divide of “pre-colonial” and “colonial” and I have selected my periodisation according to the mission’s history. I begin with the UMCA’s first settlement in Zanzibar in 1864 and end in 1926 when the diocese of Zanzibar was recalibrated, which increased African priests’ authority and marked a new phase of mission history. Moreover, the dominance of the plantation industries in north-eastern Tanzania, and the global economic depression of the early 1930s, which caused the UMCA to limit expenditure, also helps mark a suitable endpoint.

The idea for my thesis began in 2011 when I was at the Bodleian Library in Oxford consulting the archives for the UMCA. One of the first documents I came across revealed a dispute between several missionaries about the labour ethics of building Christ Church Cathedral in Zanzibar between 1872 and 1879. It turned out the building depended upon slave labour, in addition to the wage labour of the “rehabilitated” ex-slaves from the mission plantation. This was surprising considering the mission’s anti-slavery credentials. My findings prompted me to write an article about the mission and its labour ethics (2014). But more importantly, it lay a seed in my mind about how to do mission history differently. In other words, missionaries should be considered as employers and the mission should be treated as a place of employment and monetary exchange.

Felicitas Becker is my PhD supervisor.


In Michaelmas 2015 I delivered a lecture entitled, “Slavery and the slave trade in nineteenth century Africa” for Paper 29, “Africa Since 1800.” I have also taught in a group session for undergraduates for the same paper.

I completed the University of Cambridge Personal and Professional Development Training Programme to supervise undergraduate students in October 2015.

Finally, I have supervised for “Religious Conversion and Colonialism,” Themes and Sources and “Themes in World Christianities,” (B7), at the Divinity Faculty. I will also be taking some sessions for the Mphil in World Christianities in 2016-2017

Other Professional Activities

I jointly convened the Africa Research Forum & Reading Group, at the Centre for African Studies in 2015-2016. This comprised of a biweekly seminar alongside a biweekly reading group. The seminars were based around paper presentations from early-career researchers from outside of the university. The Reading Group developed from a reading group begun in February 2015. On certain weeks we had special “meet-the-author” sessions in which a member of the university’s African Studies staff attends to discuss some of their written work with post-doctoral students. This interdisciplinary reading group for PhD students was a forum to discuss key readings. It also allowed Africanists to share fieldwork experiences and advice.

In terms of college life, I am a MCR Women’s Officer and an active member of the Trinity Hall community. 

Seminar and Conference Papers presented and to be presented:


“Disturbing ancestors and harming the land: how Christian missionaries and ‘rebels’ came to be at war over lime-burning in Magila, Northeast Tanzania, 1867-1887,” on the panel "Confronting Religious Encounters in Colonial Africa," Annual ASA Conference, Washington DC.

"Sin, slave status, and the "city," Zanzibar, 1864-c.1930," for the panel, "The aftermath of slavery in Indian Ocean," ASAUK, Robinson's College, University of Cambridge.

“Disturbing ancestors and harming the land: how Christian missionaries and ‘rebels’ came to be at war over lime-burning in Magila, Northeast Tanzania, 1867-1887,” Researching East Africa, Warwick University.

"'You went there to be seen': Post-Abolition Fashions at the Slave Market Church Mkunazini Zanzibar," part of the exhibition entitled “Zanzibar's Story: Remembering the Past, Securing the Future,” for Christ Church Cathedral Zanzibar and World Monuments Fund Britain, Dr Johnson’s House, London.

“Swagger and the “splendid life”: mission education in Tanzania, 1867-c.1930,” McMenemy Seminar, Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge.


“Sin, slave status and the city in Zanzibar, 1864-c.1930,” Urban History Workshop, University of Cambridge.

“Could a ‘boi’ be a ‘big man’? Males as domestic workers and their missionary and settler employers Tanzania, 1891-c.1930,” European Conference on African Studies (ECAS), Université Paris-Sorbonne.

“Wealth in children in and around the mission stations of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa in Tanga and Zanzibar, Tanzania, 1864-1930,” African Research Forum Conference, University of Cambridge.


“Freed slaves and respectability in the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, Zanzibar, 1871- c.1900,” Graduate Research Day, St. John’s College, University of Cambridge.


“Transnational perspectives on mission workers across eastern central Africa, 1873-1914,” European Conference on African Studies (ECAS), Universidade de Lisboa.

Key Publications

Other Publications