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Devin Smart

Assistant Professor

Teaching Fields

  • Africa
  • Global history
  • Environmental history
  • History of climate change
  • History of capitalism
  • Labor and working-class history


  • PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2017

Research Interests

Devin Smart is a historian of capitalism and the environment in modern Africa, focusing especially on the history of food systems in twentieth-century East Africa.

In his first book project, Consuming Capitalism: Working-Class Food and Urban Life in Kenya’s Port City, Smart explores the new food system that emerged in Mombasa during the twentieth century. It considers how workers acquired food in a fast-growing city where cash and credit increasingly mediated access to daily necessities, exploring topics ranging from the gendered dynamics of provisioning and kitchen labor in migrant households to how people accessed a meal during the long working day of urban capitalism. In addressing these themes, the book shows how the work of cooks, preparing food inside their homes or commercially on the streets in roadside eateries, was essential to the social reproduction of labor power in East Africa’s most important port city. The manuscript draws on a range of archival sources from municipal minutes to social surveys, as well as more than 70 oral interviews conducted in Kenya. 

Smart’s second book project is also on food systems in twentieth-century East Africa, but shifts the focus from preparation and consumption to production. Working the Water: Fishing and Extractive Capitalism in Twentieth Century Kenya is an environmental history of the commercialization of Kenya’s fisheries. He has also started research on a third major project, examining the energy transition that occurred in Africa during the twentieth century. It explores the processes that created the continent's current energy mix, and historicizes today's debates about climate change and a just transition in the Global South. He has explored additional topics as well, including an article on Kenya’s global tourism marketing during the early decades of independence, and another on the way that urban traders fit into the politics of race and decolonization on the late-colonial Swahili coast.

Courses Taught

  • History 321: Colonial Africa and Independence
  • History 428: East Africa since 1895
  • History 293: History of Climate Change (Spring 2023)
  • Honors 207: Extractive Capitalism
  • History 179: World History to 1500
  • History 180: World History since 1500
  • History 200/302: Practicing History: African Environmental History
  • History 200/302: Practicing History: Global Labor and Working-Class History
  • History 484: History Research, Capstone: Capitalism and Labor in the Modern World
  • ASP 420: Africana Studies Seminar (Capstone for the minor)
  • History 209: Twentieth-Century Europe

Peer-reviewed research articles

"The Reproduction of Urban Capitalism: Street Food and the Working Day in Colonial Mombasa." The Journal of African History. 64, no. 1 (2023): 80-95.

“Provisioning the Posho: Labor Migration and Working-Class Food Systems on the Early Colonial Kenyan Coast.” International Labor and Working-Class History. 98 (2020): 173-192.

“‘Safariland’: Tourism, Development and the Marketing of Kenya in the Post-Colonial World.” African Studies Review. 61, no. 2 (2018): 134-157.

“Developing the Racial City: Conflict, Solidarity and Urban Traders in Late-Colonial Mombasa.” Journal of Eastern African Studies. 11, no. 3 (2017): 425-441.

Book reviews

“Environmental Politics in Contemporary Africa.” Review of The Green State in Africa, by Carl Death. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. Journal of African History. 59, no. 1 (2018):122-124.

Review of Congotay! Congotay! A Global History of Caribbean Food, by Candice Goucher. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2014. Food and Food ways: Explorations in the History and Culture of Human Nourishment. 24, nos. 3-4 (2016): 257-259.