Stephen Volz joined the Kenyon faculty in 2004. His general field of expertise is African history, with particular interest in Africa's global interactions, the role of religion in African societies and the region of Southern Africa. Prior to coming to Kenyon, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana and a high school social studies teacher in New York City.

Volz's research focuses on African cultural changes during the early colonial era, with numerous publications on the impact of Christianity in Tswana communities. He teaches a wide range of courses on various aspects of African history, including a survey course on African cities and seminars on women's history, South African apartheid, and connections between religion and politics. Volz is also actively involved with International Studies at Kenyon and served as director of the program during 2012–2015.

Areas of Expertise

Africa, colonialism, history of religion


2006 — Doctor of Philosophy from Univ of Wisconsin-Madison

1999 — Master of Arts from Univ of Wisconsin-Madison

1989 — Master of Arts from Washington University

1985 — Bachelor of Arts from Valparaiso University

Courses Recently Taught

This team-taught seminar explores the 20th century in global comparative perspective, through the reading, contextualization, and analysis of mainly primary source texts and documents. In any given year the seminar will focus on one of two themes: the post-war world (ca.1945-1989), or the inter-war world (1919-1939). It takes up themes of broad political, economic and social transformations; scientific and technological innovations; and the cultural shifts that occurred throughout these decades preceding and following the Second World War. The seminar sections will meet jointly once a week for lectures or films, and separately once a week for discussion of primary-source readings. In addition to the rich historical material that the course addresses, students will begin to learn the basic skills of the historian: asking questions, finding and analyzing relevant documents or primary sources, and identifying different kinds of interpretations of those sources. This counts toward the modern requirement for the major. Open only to first-year students.

This course is a survey of major events and social changes that occurred on the continent of Africa before 1800, with an emphasis on those that took place after 500. As the continent encompasses hundreds of different societies, each with its own history, this survey is necessarily far from comprehensive, instead focusing on select cases in various regions that illustrate larger trends and issues. Among the main topics are smaller-scale societies, kingdoms that arose in different parts of Africa, the spread of Islam, the arrival of European traders and the impact of the transatlantic slave trade. Recurring themes in the course will include state formation, religion, geographic diversity, cultural exchange, and the roles of archaeology, linguistics and oral histories in the reconstruction of Africa's early history. This counts toward the premodern requirement for the major and minor. Generally offered every year.

This course examines the history of Africa from 1800 to the present. It employs a range of books, articles, novels and videos to explore 19th-century transformations in Africa, European conquest of the continent, the impact of colonialism, the coming of independence, and recent challenges and achievements in Africa. The influence of Europe on Africa is a dominant theme, but the course emphasizes African perspectives and actions in that troubled relationship. Throughout, we will consider issues of resistance, identity and cultural change, paying particular attention to the recent roots of current situations in Africa, such as the democratization of some nations and endemic violence in others. This counts toward the modern requirement for the major and minor. Generally offered every spring.

This class examines various ways that people and ideas from the United States have influenced Africa during the past two centuries and how Africans have responded to that involvement. Although much interaction has been at the level of governments and organizations, we will focus primarily on the history of U.S.-African relations at the social personal and local level within Africa, studying specific examples of transatlantic cultural, economic and political influence that changed over time and varied between different parts of Africa. Among the cases to be considered will be several involving African Americans, such as the founding of Liberia and the development of Pan-Africanism. Other topics will include Christian missionaries, explorers, the Cold War, and recent U.S. political, economic and humanitarian interest in Africa. This counts toward the modern and colonial/imperial requirements for the major and the modern requirement for the minor. No prerequisite. Offered every two or three years.

This course explores the role that towns and cities have played in African history, tracing the development of urban areas from early times up to the present. In regarding urban areas as integral features of African societies, the course questions stereotypes of Africa as essentially rural and traditional, examining instead African capacities for cultural synthesis, adaptation and innovation. Among the general themes studied are urban-rural relations, trade, political centralization, industrialization and globalization. Given the immensity of the continent, the course focuses on a select assortment of urban areas as case studies, utilizing a range of sources such as archaeology, memoirs, government documents and literature to understand their histories and current situations. This counts toward the modern and colonial/imperial requirements for the major and the modern requirement for the minor. No prerequisite. Offered every two or three years.

This course will explore social changes that have taken place in Africa during the past century as portrayed in novels and films by and about African women. A variety of works from throughout the continent will be considered, but the general focus will be on the impact of colonization, urbanization, and other recent social changes. Among the topics addressed will be polygyny, motherhood, education, religion, employment, political activism and the recent AIDS epidemic. In each case, the emphasis will not be on victimization or cultural decline, but rather, as expressed in their works of art, the resilience and adaptability of African women. This counts toward the modern and Africa/Asia requirements for the major and minor. Prerequisite: sophomore standing. Offered every two or three years.

This course will explore major social and political changes that took place in South Africa during the 20th century. From the time of British colonization, through the rise and fall of the apartheid state, a variety of competing groups emerged that eventually combined to form the nation of South Africa. That process was accompanied by recurring conflict, but with the end of enforced racial segregation in the 1990s and the introduction of democracy, South Africans have been re-examining their past in search of new narratives that might transcend the legacy of historic divisions. Through study of scholarly works, primary documents, literature and film, this seminar will explore the roots of modern South African society and the varying perceptions of that history. This counts toward the modern requirement for the major and minor. Prerequisite: sophomore standing. Offered every two or three years.

This course focuses on the conceptual frameworks used by historians and on debates within the profession about the nature of the past and the best way to write about it. The seminar prepares students of history to be productive researchers, insightful readers and effective writers. The seminar is required for history majors and should be completed before the senior year. Open only to sophomores and juniors.This counts toward the practice and theory requirement for the major. Prerequisite: history or international studies major or permission of instructor.

Throughout Africa’s history, religion and government have been inseparably linked as fundamental elements of society. Authority and achievement, in all spheres of life, are generally based on certain assumptions about the operation of unseen forces and the submission of individuals to a higher power, whether human or divine. Allegiance, civility and justice are as much religious phenomena as they are political. This seminar examines leading cases of religiously inspired politics -- or politically motivated religion -- from different places and times in Africa, studying key aspects of the relationship between faith and power and seeking greater understanding of regional variation and historical change in that relationship. A recurring theme is the role of indigenous African beliefs and their interaction with Christian, Islamic, and modern understandings of power. The seminar will culminate with individual research papers by students on topics of particular interest to them. This counts toward the modern and colonial/imperial requirement for the major and the modern requirement for the minor. Prerequisite: HIST 145, 146 or permission of instructor. Offered every two or three years.

This course is designed for sophomores who plan to major in international studies. It explores the evolution of modern international society by examining the roles of industrialization, capitalism, nationalism, individualism and other elements of modernity in propelling and directing the flow of wealth, people and ideas between different regions of the world. In addition to studying general political and economic changes, the course considers various local and personal perspectives, giving life to otherwise abstract forces and complicating attempts to construct a single overarching narrative of "modernization," "Westernization" or "development." Among the issues to be examined are the causes and effects of international economic disparities, migration, cultural tensions, and stresses on the environment. In surveying major viewpoints and illustrative cases within these themes, the course is meant to serve as an introduction to the international studies major, utilizing a variety of academic disciplines and providing a foundation for further study of relations between different nations and peoples of the world. As part of the course, students will complete a research paper related to the geographic area where they plan to go for their off-campus experience. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. Prerequisite: sophomore standing or permission of instructor. Offered every year.