My monograph Remembering African Labor Migration to the Second Wold: Socialist Mobilities between Angola, Mozambique, and East Germany is out! You can access it for free online! 

I am currently working my new book project that seeks to center African refugee management in the era of decolonization to argue for the importance of that time period in understanding the evolution of the global refugee regime. 
For details on my research projects, please see below.

Work in Progress: 

Decolonization, Development, and the Organization of African Unity: 

The creation of the African refugee regime in global perspective, 1963-1984

The United States, Europe, the Middle East, and other parts of the world, from Bangladesh to South Africa, have recently been preoccupied with what is often labelled a global “refugee crisis.” The public discussion about these crises remains often ahistorical, even though historians have demonstrated how refugees are co-constitutive of nation states; far from being an exception to the norm, they are the norm. Despite good scholarship, moreover, historians have paid too little attention to how people have sought, and governments have provided refuge in the Global South, where most refugees have been and continue to be hosted.  In contributing to the literature that retells histories of displacement from this perspective, my book advances the argument that refugee management was as much a political imperative of pan-African solidarity as it was a humanitarian and/or development concern of African politicians. Positioning Africa in the center, not just as a refugee-producing and -hosting continent, but also as place where new ideas regarding refugee management were developed, brings into stark relief the importance of the visions and experiences of the decolonizing world, demonstrating that the emergence of global refugee rights and management approaches after 1945 were intertwined with the efforts of anticolonial movements and politicians of young nation-states to imagine new states and citizens. The nexus between decolonization, development, humanitarianism, and refugees has thus far been understudied and minimal attention has been paid to the African continent’s premier political organization, the OAU; this book seeks to redress both lacunae.

Open Access Monograph

Remembering African Labor Migration to the Second World: 

Socialist Mobilities between Angola, Mozambique, and East Germany

The life histories and memories of Angolan and Mozambican men and women who worked and trained in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) from the late 1970s until the early 1990s are central to this book. Political and economic relations between the “Second World” and the “Global South” opened up migration routes to young Africans to work and study abroad. This was an opportunity not only for migrants but also for their governments, as migrants were expected to gain the necessary skills with which to develop their nascent post-colonial home nations. 

By examining the lived experiences of those who temporarily migrated northwards, the project makes multiple contributions to African and global historiography. First, it reveals the human side of state-led migration circuits, demonstrating the ways that migrants adapt to and challenge the  migration programs. Second, it redirects our attention away from African theaters of the hot Cold War towards transnational socialist mobilities and the working of government programs in the name of “mutual aid” and “solidarity.” Moreover, it explores the largely understudied period  of postcolonial African history, tracing the political transition of Angola and Mozambique from colonialism to independence, to socialism, and finally to free-market economics through following the life course of the transnational workers. Finally, by connecting migrants’ memories and life histories to large-scale political and economic relationships between socialist nations during the Cold War, it illuminates the interplay between local, national and global geopolitics. This integration of micro and macro history across local and global connections allows my work to address fundamental questions regarding the relationship between migration and development – a question which remains highly relevant in present-day considerations of migration, labor, development, and global inequality.

The open access publication was generously funded by the University of Potsdam's Graduate School and the university's central research support unit.

Visit the book's website here: 

Stay tuned for the book's Portuguese translation, which will be published by Imprensa de Ciências Sociais in 2023.


Marcia Schenck, deploying an extraordinary array of oral and documentary resources, tells us what Mozambicans and Angolans who went as worker-trainees to East Germany were able to make of the experience: their hopes, their frustrations, the relationships they made, and the memories and cultural resources they brought back with them. Her book is a compelling reflection on socialism in Africa and Europe and on what it means to move between continents and ways of life.

Frederick Cooper, author of Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present.

The book’s compelling central message is a fundamentally human history of migration to socialist East Germany. Friendship and cooperation, education, professional training, and labor all played a role in shaping this cold war migration to a place that emerged as quite cosmopolitan.

Dito Tembe, Mosambican artist and former contact laborer

The book foregrounds the creation of a socialist world in the spaces in between nations and continents, in the details and places of migrants’ lives and memories. The absolute abundance of interviews conducted by Schenck gives her a source base that is unique among historians of socialist globalization, giving real insight into the experience of socialist encounter for hundreds of non-elite men and women. This close focus on the individual produces a subtle method-as-argument intervention that complicates chronological and geographical divides of African, Cold War and European history in fruitful ways. Following migrants from colonial to post-colonial, socialist to post-socialist, the book illuminates the interwoven histories of GDR, Angola, and Mozambique alongside the interconnected lives of the migrant workers she follows.

Elizabeth Banks, European University Institute

Marcia Schenck’s outstanding and richly textured study on socialist mobilities between Angola, Mozambique and East Germany clearly is among the best recent efforts to analyze African history in a global perspective. It also offers a re-reading of the GDR as consumer paradise and the factory as a site of the production of goods, workers, race, and ideology. The portrayal of contract workers from Lusophone Africa as holders of specialized knowledge reveals the myriad ways that migrants adapt to and challenge state migration programs. Finally, the book fills an important gap in the literature on the Global Cold War, as it substantially expands our knowledge of transnational socialist mobility experienced from below. Following closely in the migrants’ footsteps, it demonstrates the degree to which Angolan and Mozambican history is intertwined with that of other socialist nations including East Germany. 

Andreas Eckert, Humboldt University Berlin

Socialist Solidarities and Their Afterlives:

Histories and Memories of Angolan and Mozambican Migrants in the German Democratic Republic, 1975-2015

This dissertation examines state-sponsored education and labor migration between the Peoples’ Republics of Angola and Mozambique, and the German Democratic Republic (“GDR” or East Germany) in the late 1970s-1990s. During the Cold War, political and economic relations between the “Second World” and the “Third World” opened up migration routes to young African men and women to work and study abroad. In the process, migrants were expected to gain technical skills and expertise to develop their nascent post-colonial home states upon their return. Tracing Angola’s and Mozambique’s political transitions from decolonization, to socialism, and finally to free market democracies through the lived experiences of these migrants, this dissertation is firmly rooted in African history. 

The memories and lived experiences of Angolans and Mozambicans who migrated to work and study in East Germany are central to this dissertation. It draws on 268 life history interviews with workers, students, and government officials, triangulated with archival sources, collected during two years of fieldwork in Angola, Mozambique, Portugal, South Africa, and Germany. 

Outlining the lives of the transnational migrants we understand the importance of non-military global socialist ties for African history during the Cold War and beyond. Moreover, the dissertation illustrates the lasting impact of the migration experience, which indelibly shaped the Angolan and Mozambican workers’ relationship to production, consumption, education, and affective relationships.

The dissertation engages with migration history, the history of nation building, labor history, and collective life history, in order to show just how intertwined the workers’ and students’ professional experiences were with their private lives as they travelled from Africa to Europe, and back again. Following in the migrants’ footsteps, it demonstrates the degree to which Angolan and Mozambican history is intertwined with that of other socialist nations like East Germany; the global socialist conjuncture is ill-understood unless we account for Angola’s and Mozambique’s multifaceted connections to the socialist world.

Dissertation, PhD in history

Princeton University, September 2017

This research was generoulsy funded by the History Department at Princeton University, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, and the Research Fellowship at the National Library of Portugal (FLAD‑BNP). I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Mercator Fellowship. Many thanks to my colleagues at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Humboldt University in Berlin, and the directors and staff of the Angolan National Archives in Luanda, and the Portuguese National Library in Lisbon for providing advice and institutional homes during my research.

Land Struggles and Identity – Comparative Case Studies of San Self-Representation in Southern Africa

This thesis focuses on the historical interplay between land, representation and identity formation in two disparate and heterogeneous San communities which reinvented themselves to mobilize around land and resource access. Informed by studies of the late colonial period, the thesis focuses on post-independence approaches to land politics amongst the Hai||om of Namibia and the ‡Khomani of South Africa up to the present. Tracing historical processes concerning land access, it argues that land helped shape the differential formulation of identity in these communities. The politics of land have functioned as a crucible through which many San and those of San descent have refashioned and mobilised their ethnic identities and self-representation. By vocalizing ethnic membership, grounded in a claim to historicity and First Peoples status, San communities commodified their identity to serve as a legitimate moral claim to resource access and to kindle pride in their identity.
The diverging land access strategies employed by the Hai||om and the ‡Khomani today reflect the possibilities availed to them in their independent nations: the Hai||om’s emphasis on the political route to land access is as much a reflection of Namibia’s political structures as the ‡Khomani’s reliance on lawfare reveals the South African approach to land reform through restitution.  Most Hai||om portray their ongoing land claims as justified with regard to their present socio-economic disenfranchisement and the unequal land distribution resulting from the colonial homeland policies. The Khomani based their land rights claim (1995-2002) on the principle of restitution and First Peoples status in the new South Africa. While the struggle for land and resource access continues to be the most salient ethnic marker for the Hai||om, the ‡Khomani define themselves primarily via common landownership. However, both groups continue to battle with the formulation of an inclusive identity, membership issues, a leadership impasse and hindered development.
The research takes an interdisciplinary approach with a strong focus on historical methods, including archival and oral history sources, participant observation and collaborative photographic work with the San, to illuminate why and how these two San groups received land. Understanding the intersections of land, representation and identity among San communities also provides insights into other indigenous communities which, like the San, experience leadership struggles, intense poverty and marginalization.

Dissertation, MSc in African Studies

Oxford University, May 2010

This research was supported by the African Studies Department, Oxford and St. Anne's College, Oxford.

Land, Water, Truth and Love: 

Visions of Identity and Land Access: From Bain's Bushmen to ‡Khomani San

This thesis situates the current ‡Khomani claims to land in their historical context. Examining the nexus between land, economic choices, power, and identity, I analyze the construction of the "Bushman myth "in South Africa as it relates to the ‡Khomani San of the Northern Cape. The myth refers to stereotypical depictions of “Bushmen” based on invented traditions. These traditions are depicted as atavistic manifestations of a historically immutable Bushman ethnicity. Stressing their timelessness and isolation, the Bushman myth thus disregards the San’s internal dialectics and fluid social worlds as well as their historical and local relationships to non-San; nevertheless it has come to define the life of the so-called Bain’s Bushmen and their descendants during the last 80 years. By tracing the development, application, and appropriation of the Bushman myth and its power to define traditions, I hope to contribute towards a much-needed discussion in the present about multiple identities and ‡Khomani ethnicity.


Motivated by a desire to understand the difficulties the ‡Khomani community is facing today, I set out to trace the development of San identity and its relationship to land and the political economy through the past 150 years. My thesis is based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the Northern Cape in South Africa from Cape Town to Upington and on the ‡Khomani land in January and summer 2008. I conducted 42 unstructured and semi-structured interviews with community members and others ranging from lawyers, government officials, to NGO consultants, and engaged in participant observation. The archival work is based on government records, newspaper articles, correspondence, and ethnographic studies collected in six South African archives.

BA thesis, summa cum laude in history

Mount Holyoke College, December 2008

This research was generously supported by:

Almara Grants, History Department, Mount Holyoke College (MHC)

Global Studies Summer Fellowship, McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, Weissman Center Leadership Grant, Weissman Center for the Leadership and the Liberal Arts, MHC.