Spring 2020


For more than a thousand years, people, ideas, and commodities have moved along an evolving cultural and commercial contact zone linking Stone Town (Zanzibar), Muscat (Oman), and Muharraq (Bahrain) to a wider Indian Ocean World. People have found work, community, status, and refuge, thereby shaping the historical and social identities and experiences of Africans and Arabs. The varied and complex interactions among Africans and Arabs in the past and present in this zone is the focus of this program. It highlights the role that these peoples have played in the development of a distinctive set of trading and familial networks, maritime and musical cultures, laboring and ruling classes, and migration patterns.

Through exploration of the content and design of archeological, museum, and other heritage sites and dialogue with scholars, artists, heritage practitioners, health providers, merchants, and pearl divers along the East African and Arabian coasts, this program offers deep and profound engagement with the past and present.

Engage in comparative ethnographic research and writing. Conduct interviews. Participate in the performance of culture and practice of heritage. Question the ways that knowledge has and continues to be cultivated, disseminated, and internalized. The program offers a unique opportunity to study the ancient and living legacies of cultural and commercial contact between Africa and Arabia.

Learning Goals

  • To learn about the varied and contested notions of African and Arab identity that circulate among communities in Zanzibar, Oman, and Bahrain in the past and present through research, conversation, performance, and experience.
  • To learn about the importance of a cultural and commercial gateway linking Africa and Arabia to the broader Indian Ocean and Western Worlds.
  • To learn how to envision, design, execute, and evaluate in-depth individual and group research projects that draw on a wide range of archival, archeological, musical, oral, and visual sources and material culture.
  • To learn how to question the assumptions that researchers and collaborators bring to ethnographic encounters while maintaining a spirit of mutual respect and collegiality.
  • To develop an acute awareness of some of the ways that race and culture are understood in different national contexts.
  • To nurture the ability to navigate different cultural contexts with humility and confidence.


Demonstrated interest in Africana Studies. One 100-level history or Africana Studies course is highly recommended.

Course of Study

18 Credits

HIST 282: Zanzibar and the Indian Ocean (6 credits)

This course explores Zanzibar’s contribution to the history and culture of the Indian Ocean world. It covers the following events: contact with Arab, Persian, and Indian merchants since the first century AD; Arab expulsion of the Portuguese and incorporation of Zanzibar as an overseas Omani possession in 1698; relocation of the capital from Muscat to Stone Town in 1832; and British acquisition as a Protectorate in 1890. Students will learn about the unique maritime cultures, trading networks, migration patterns, cultural exchange, and religious tolerance that have shaped the character of this cosmopolitan community.

Instructor: Local Faculty

HIST 284: Heritage in Africa and Arabia (6 credits)

Through lectures, readings, and extensive site visits to museums and archaeological sites, this course examines the rich cultural heritage of East Africa and Arabia. Students will investigate Persian, Arab, Indian, and Islamic sites in Zanzibar, Oman, and Bahrain, reflecting on the deep influence of the Indian Ocean on the region’s historical trading systems and modern-day relations. The course also examines the influence of various European colonial powers during the era in which they ruled or wielded influence.

Instructors: Thabiti Willis and Local Faculty

HIST 285: Critical Historical Research Methods (6 credits)

This course focuses on ethnographic research and writing with an emphasis on the practice of fieldwork. Students will conduct group research projects that include actively guiding and evaluating the work of their peers. The content of these projects will include maritime activities, health, music, economics, and heritage. Students will learn the benefits and challenges of examining oral tradition, oral history, poetry, visual art, material culture, and embodied practice. Service or experiential learning is another major point of emphasis. Students will develop their ability to question their knowledge, method, evidence, interpretation, experience, ethics, and power.

Instructors: Thabiti Willis and Local Faculty

Faculty Director

Thabiti WillisJohn Thabiti Willis is associate professor of African history and Africana Studies at Carleton College. He earned a BA in Accounting at Clark Atlanta University, an MA in Africana Studies at Cornell University, and an MA and Ph.D. in African History at Emory University. He spent two years conducting research in Nigeria, one year of those as a Fulbright-Hays fellow.  After completing his Ph.D., he worked as a post-doctoral fellow and lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies.

His research interests focus on the cultural and social factors that have shaped the history of Africans and their descendants in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds during the eras of the slave trade and colonial rule. His teaching and research nurture reflection on the ways that people narrate the past, construct identity, and, like artists, act with an awareness of an audience. He has previously led off-campus study programs to South Africa and the United Arab Emirates and looks forward to introducing Carleton students to this exciting part of the world.


Students will live in dorms, hotels, and possibly homestays.


Students will visit museums, archaeological, and other heritage sites in each program location.


Program dates roughly correspond to the Carleton academic term. Specific dates will be communicated to program participants.


All Carleton-sponsored 10-week off-campus study programs charge the Carleton comprehensive fee, which includes instruction, room and board, group excursions, public transportation, medical and evacuation insurance, travel assistance, and most cultural events.

Students are responsible for books and supplies, passports and visas (when required), transportation to and from the program sites, and personal expenses and travel during the seminar. Students will receive a program-specific Additional Cost Estimate at the time of acceptance.

Student financial aid is applicable as on campus. See the Off-Campus Studies website for further information on billing, financial aid, and scholarships.

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Application Deadline for Spring Term 2020:
Monday, April 29, 2019

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