De Luna

Kathryn M. de Luna

Adjunct Associate Professor of History

Email: kdeluna [] Phone: x2198 Office: 304 Humanities

ON LEAVE Fall 2012 - Rice University Humanities Research Center Fellowship - "Collecting Food, Cultivating People"


  • Ph.D. Northwestern University, 2008
  • M.A. Northwestern University, 2002
  • B.A. University of South Carolina, 2001

Areas of Interest

  • Africa
  • Historical Methodologies
  • Social History of Food and Environment
  • History of Emotions

Research and Teaching

I am an historian of Africa specializing in the precolonial period. I am interested in the intersection of political economy, social affiliation, and forms of individualism and subjectivity in precolonial African societies over the longue durée. I work in a region that today encompasses the nation of Zambia, the southern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the northern zones of Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. As an historian of oral societies, my work is shaped by the imperative to produce the archives of evidence from which I write history. As a result, I am a specialist in comparative historical linguistics and have a keen interest in archaeology, ethnography and oral traditions.

I am currently completing a book that uses linguistic and archaeological evidence to explore the social history of food and politics among farming communities speaking Botatwe languages in South Central Africa over three millennia. While the spread and intensification of farming and trade are often used to explain political change in ancient Africa (and elsewhere), the histories of farming, trade, and political change were actually contingent on developments in hunting, fishing, and foraging—the very activities farming supposedly replaced. In the earliest periods of Botatwe history (1000 B.C.E. – 750 C.E.), as Botatwe speakers took up the promise and challenge of growing cereal crops, they did not distinguish between farming and living off wild resources. It was only later, as farming grew more common by ca. 750 C.E., that Botatwe peoples in the east created a distinction between work undertaken in the fields and in the bush through an elaborate series of technological innovations around communal spear hunting and fishing. By 1000 C.E., specialists elaborated on earlier innovations in spearcraft to invent a politics of reputation-building based on knowledge about the bush that, surprisingly, resisted the centralization of power around the agricultural economy. Though the moral visions and material underpinnings of such paths to renown shifted dramatically as neighboring societies centralized political authority and long distance trade intensified, culminating in the slave trade, the affective powers of repute persisted throughout the second millennium. This history of reputation-building not only changes what we know about the development and character of political complexity in ancient farming societies, it foregrounds the affective dimensions of political power and the importance of personal networks and conceptions of individuality in early African history.

Looking to the future, I am interested to pursue research on early African history that continues with the themes of affect and mobility that emerged from my first project. I am also curious about the deeper past and what historians might contribute to the complicated relationship between the emerging field of Deep History, evolutionary studies of the human species, and the African Stone Age.

Teaching Interests

At Rice, I teach the African History surveys (231 and 232), Historical Methods and Theory (296), the Invention of Africa (155), and upper division seminars on East Africa, Comparative Approaches to the History of Emotions. I expect to team-teach a course on Deep History next academic year.

At the graduate level, I offer a minor field in African History, which broadens graduate training in overlapping themes, such as slavery, studied in other world regions and complements coursework in the African Archaeology Ph.D. program offered by the Anthropology Department. I regularly offer graduate reading seminars on African Slavery and an upper division seminar on the History of Emotions, in which graduate students may enroll with fulfillment of additional requirements. I am interested in offering seminars or directed readings on African Environmental History and alternative historical methodologies.

Selected Publications

  • “Society and Affect in Precolonial South Central Africa,” International Journal of African Historical Studies, forthcoming in volume 46, issue 1 (March/April, 2013).
  • “Hunting Reputations: Talent, Individualism, and Community-Building in Precolonial South Central Africa,” Journal of African History, forthcoming in volume 53, issue 3 (November, 2012).
  • “Surveying the Boundaries of History and Archaeology: Early Botatwe Settlement in South Central Africa and the ‘Sibling Disciplines’ Debate” African Archaeological Review 29, no. 2-3 (September, 2012), 209-251.
  • With Jeffrey Fleisher and Susan K. McIntosh, “Thinking across the African Past: Interdisciplinarity and Early History,” African Archaeological Review 29, no. 2-3 (September, 2012), 75-94.
  • “Affect in Ancient Africa: Historical Linguistics and the Challenge of ‘Emotion Talk’,” in Encoding Emotions in African Languages, ed. Gian Claudio Batic, LINCOM Studies in African Languages Series vol. 84 (München: LINCOM Europa, 2011), 1-16.
  • “Classifying Botatwe: M.60 and K.40 Languages and the Settlement Chronology of South Central Africa,” Africana Linguistica 16 (2010): 65-96.

Works in Progress

Collecting Food, Cultivating People: Subsistence and Society in Central Africa, c. 1000 B.C.E. to c. 1900 C.E., monograph in preparation.

Curriculum Vitae

Current CV