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Brett L. Shadle

Brett Shadle, Professor

Brett Shadle, Professor
Brett Shadle, Professor

Department of History
431 Major Williams Hall, 220 Stanger St.
Blacksburg, VA 24061
540-231-8362 |

As a first-generation college student, I graduated with a bachelor’s in history from Northern Illinois University, and went on to earn a doctorate in African history from Northwestern University. After several years teaching at the University of Mississippi, I arrived at Virginia Tech in 2005. I am associate director of Virginia Techs's Center for Refugee, Migrant, and Displacement Studies, which pursues research and teaching around issues of displacement, and works with displaced individuals locally and internationally.

My early research dealt with colonialism, the law, marriage, and gender in southwest Kenya, resulting in the 2006 book, ‘Girl Cases’: Marriage and Colonialism in Gusiiland, Kenya, 1890-1970. While I conducted smaller research projects on legal history and sexual violence in Kenya, my next book delved into issues of race and settler colonialism: The Souls of White Folk: White Settlers in Kenya, 1900–1920s.

Most recently, I’ve turned my attention to the history of refugees and completed a “state of the field” essay (in A Companion to African History). I am in the midst of research and writing a long book on the history of refugees who fled Ethiopia after the 1935 invasion by Italy. 

When working with students, I’m particularly interested in promoting study abroad and in dissecting issues of power, race, and paternalism that often arise in service learning projects, humanitarianism, and development.

A website, “African American Fourth of July,” summarizes the findings and analysis of students in an introductory history class who researched seven historical African American newspapers to trace the meanings behind Independence Day.


  • Kenya
  • Ethiopia
  • Race
  • Refugees
  • Colonialism
  • Ph.D., in History, Northwestern University, 2000
  • B.A., in History, Northern Illinois University, 1993

In addition to my current role as chair of the Department of History, I am particularly proud to have served on the Faculty Senate and on bodies dealing with international education and research (such as the  International Initiative Committee of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the Commission on Outreach and International Affairs); to engage in regular consultation with the Global Education Office; and to work with groups dedicated to service learning in such roles as VT Engage Faculty Fellow and faculty adviser to the Coalition for Refugee Resettlement.

  • VT Engage Faculty Fellow, 2014-15
  • Excellence in International Initiatives, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech, 2014
  • Certificate of Teaching Excellence, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech, 2012


The Souls of White Folk: White Settlers in Kenya, 1900s-1920s (Manchester University Press, 2015).

‘Girl Cases’: Marriage Disputes and Colonialism in Gusiiland, Kenya, 1890-1970 (Heinemann, 2006). 

Journal Articles and Book Chapters

“The ‘Problem’ of the Urban Refugee: The African Refugee Regime and the Joint Refugee Services of Kenya (1967-1982),” Canadian Journal of African Studies (2021).

“The Unity of Black People and the Redemption of Ethiopia: The Ethiopian World Federation and a New Black Nationalism, 1936-1941,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 54 (2021): 193-215.

“Humiliation and Violence in Kenyan History,” in Gender, Violence, and Affect: Interpersonal, Institutional and Ideological Practices, Marita Husso, Sanna Karkulehto, Tuija Saresma, Aarno Laitila, Jari Eilola and Heli Siltala, eds. (Studies in Victims and Victimology, Palgrave, 2021).

“Reluctant humanitarians: British policy toward refugees in Kenya during the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-1940,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 47 (2019): 167-86.

 “Refugees and Migration in African History,” in William Worger, Charles Ambler, and Nwando Achebe, eds., A Companion to African History (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2019).

“‘As if I were in Prison’: White Deportation and Exile from Early Colonial Kenya,” in Benjamin Lawrance and Nathan Carpenter, eds., Africans in Exile: Mobility, Law, and Identity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018).

 “Debating ‘Early Marriage’ in Colonial Kenya, 1920-1950,” in Richard Roberts, Anne Bunting, and Benjamin Lawrance, eds., Marriage by Force? Contestations over consent and coercion in Africa (Ohio University Press, 2016).

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