Henriette Marie Moberg Rödland


My doctoral research project focuses on slavery and social inequality in northern Zanzibar between 1100 and 1500 CE, through the study of archaeological artefacts and ecofacts as well as historical documents. Swahili stone towns were economically and socially dynamic places with tangible hierarchies reflected in architecture, material culture, consumption of food, and the arrangement of space. Much of our knowledge of the pre-colonial Swahili focuses on the top tiers of this hierarchy however, as research interests have tended to emphasise the elite members of society who inhabited the stone houses. Most Swahili people were not members of this merchant elite, yet they formed a significant part of the Swahili social and economic townscape. My project focuses on this "hidden majority" (Fleisher and LaViolette 1999) and aims to use surveys and excavations to reveal the material traces of the non-elite at the two sites Tumbatu and Mkokotoni in northern Zanzibar, and investigate how different and intersecting types of identity were maintained and negotiated within these two areas. One of the major aims within this research is to develop a robust methodology for studying the archaeology of enslaved persons present in these coastal towns before the colonial period, and to investigate the importance of slave labour within Swahili urban societies. As such, this study aims to contribute an important voice in conversations about comparative forms of slavery and the social and economic role of slaves in the past, and explore how status was enacted through access to places and objects, and displayed through certain material symbols. It aims to provide a nuanced view of slavery and labour which goes beyond discussions of chattel or plantation slavery that dominate much of current slavery studies.

My interest in African archaeology and slavery started during my undergraduate degree at the University of York, where I successfully applied to join the 2013 archaeological field season at Songo Mnara, Tanzania, directed by Dr. Stephanie Wynne-Jones and Dr. Jeffrey Fleisher. This work inspired my dissertation, focusing on local slavery in East and West Africa. Subsequently, I obtained a Master’s Degree from the University of East Anglia in 2015, with an emphasis on slavery and labour in Africa with the hope to continue my research at PhD level. I also joined the Graduate Attachment Scheme at the British Institute in Eastern Africa in 2016, where I further developed my skills and knowledge of African archaeology and joined several anthropological and archaeological projects in Kenya and Tanzania. My current employment as a PhD candidate here at Uppsala University has enabled me to carry out research on a topic which is still poorly understood and which might enhance our understanding of urban economic and social dynamics in the East African past.