Jamie Miller

Jamie Miller, Postdoctoral Fellow

"Pursuing advanced study felt like a way to expand my mind and to not let anyone else own what or how I thought."


My interest in apartheid grew out of my broader interest in the creation of post-war Africa. I quickly realized that the Cold War in South Africa provided an under-studied prism to explore a host of issues relating to political ideology, state formation, and shifting modes of racial thought.

The dismantling of apartheid was one of the great causes of the post-war era. Its success remains a symbol of a progressive world community. My first book looks at this phenomenon from the other side, exploring how the leaders of white South Africa sought to render apartheid viable in the post-colonial era. I argue that the regime sought to survive not by simply resisting decolonization and African nationalism, but by engaging with the norms and values of the post-colonial era and appropriating them to legitimize apartheid’s existing racial hierarchies.

I heard about Cornell’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program through the historians’ grapevine. I learned that it provided a great deal of research freedom as well as substantial resources to take your work to the next level. The opportunity to work closely with Fredrik Logevall, a recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize, was an irresistible draw. My fellowship year has been dominated by just two projects: the writing of a major article, which involved me testing a number of ideas well beyond my comfort zone, and the transformation of my doctoral dissertation into a book manuscript. The time and space the fellowship has afforded has been invaluable on both fronts. My article is appearing in the Journal of African History in the fall, and I have a book contract with Oxford University Press.

I am a member of a number of workshops and seminars at Cornell, including the History Department Graduate Colloquium, the Foreign Relations Reading Group, and the International Relations seminar. These networks have been invaluable forums for exposing myself to new ideas and ways of thinking.

I am also teaching an undergraduate seminar at Cornell entitled Constructing Tomorrow: State-Building and the Post-Colonial Moment. The course focuses on state-building across the global south. It encourages students to think laterally across areas we usually study separately, from Africa to South Asia to the Middle East and beyond, and requires them to read a corpus of inter-disciplinary texts focused around a weekly theme, from tax collection to agricultural reform. It is a challenging course and it prompts students to think in lots of new ways, every week. Fortunately, my students this semester are an exceptional group of broad-minded thinkers.

The importance of being global in outlook is very important. Americans can sometimes be insular in their world view. However, we can expect future generations to be required to engage much more deeply with non-Western communities. Being an Australian and having lived in France, Great Britain, and South Africa, I work hard to inculcate in my students a real curiosity about the outside world.

Starting in fall 2015, I’ll be working with Patrick Manning, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of World History and Director of the World History Center at the University of Pittsburgh. I will have the benefit of his expertise as I launch my new book project, Black Lenins: The Marxist Project in Post-Colonial Africa, which explores the story of African communism through the lens of state building.