Julia Tischler is associate professor of African History and co-director of the Center for African Studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and currently a fellow at MIASA. Focusing on the history of southern Africa, she has published on questions of development, settler colonialism, environmental history, race, and agriculture.
Her book project "The Kingdom of Mealies" is a transnational history of rural reform in segregationist South Africa at a time of rapid industrial growth and agrarian commercialization. It analyzes the ways in which the “agrarian question” was interlaced with the emergence of a “global color line”, increasingly rigid social categorizations which were based foremost on skin color. It focuses on different means of agricultural education that proliferated at the time, including agricultural colleges, extension services, children’s clubs, and domestic training. South Africa in the segregation period (c. 1900-1948), as an extreme case of both rapid agrarian change and state racism, holds important insights into global questions of rural reform and race politics.
"The Kingdom of Mealies" investigates agrarian visions of progress, charting the ways in which so-called progressive farmers, both black and white, as well as state officials and experts cast agricultural education as a way of dealing with industrialization, agricultural commercialization, and the resulting problems of rural poverty and environmental stress. I argue that the idea of scientific farming lent itself to radically different agendas, including transatlantic Pan-Africanism, white supremacist movements, and state-led social engineering.