Prof. wins Fulbright for study in Nigeria

by Kathleen McDermott | 10/23/02 5:00am

The recipient of a prestigious Fulbright Scholar grant, history Professor Judith Byfield '80 will pack her bags this January for Abeokuta, Nigeria, and spend five months interviewing women who led a 1947 tax revolt against their colonial government.

Approximately 800 scholars from the United States conduct research abroad each year through the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program. Applicants for the grants must be nominated by their respective academic institutions and submit detailed plans of their proposed research.

Byfield has already traveled and researched extensively on the history of women's involvement in nationalist movements in Nigeria.

As a Ph.D. student in history at Columbia University, she made her first trip to Nigeria, hoping to write her dissertation on the intense, nine-month-long tax revolts staged in 1947 by over 10,000 women in the West Nigerian town of Abeokuta.

Although she ended up writing the dissertation about a related topic, her interest in the 1947 revolts remained.

Funded by the College's Rockefeller Center, Byfield has already spent two summers conducting archival research for the project.

As a result of the protests of these women, Byfield explained, the British colonial government in Abeokuta rescinded tax collections for women. The town's "traditional king" was forced to abdicate his throne and sent into exile, while the local council was reconstituted with female participation.

The protests brought together a broad cross-section of Nigerian women and created an organizational model that other towns imitated, forming their own associations to advocate for political issues, Byfield said.

When Byfield returns to Nigeria in January, she plans to spend her time interviewing women involved in these protests, developing a better sense of their understanding of the historical event, she said.

Such research, she said, can help document how nationalism in Nigeria was gendered, explaining that within most literature on nationalism there is "little mention of women's participation."

"So much of work on nationalism is on political parties and male leaders," and while acknowledging that women were involved, does little to ascertain "what women's expectations of these nationalist movements" were, Byfield said.

Byfield said she views her research as "an entre into this larger discussion of nationalism and how nationalism is gendered."

While in Nigeria, Byfield will also teach a graduate seminar on "Women and the State in Africa" at Nigeria's University of Ibadan.

The winner of numerous citations and honors, Byfield published a book on Nigeria last fall, entitled "The Bluest Hands: A Social and Economic History of Women Indigo Dyers in Western Nigeria, 1890-1940."

At Dartmouth, Byfield has taught courses in African and Caribbean history since joining the faculty in 1991 as a Mellon Fellow. In 1993, she was granted the title of assistant professor.

The Fulbright program is funded by the U.S. State Department and administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES), with the stated goal of fostering greater international understanding.

Since 1981, at least 30 other Dartmouth professors have won Fulbright grants, most recently fellow history Professor Margaret Darrow, whose research in Istanbul was financed by a Fulbright grant during the 2000-2001 academic year.