CofC Logo

Assan Sarr

Assistant Professor

Address: Maybank Hall, Room 329
Phone: 843.953.3915

Assan Sarr (Ph.D. Michigan State University, 2010) is Assistant Professor of History and African Studies at the College Charleston. He is affiliated with the College’s Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program and serves as a Partner in the African Oral Narratives Project, MATRIX, Michigan State University, which provides free online access to collections of oral narratives in 16 African languages.


PhD., History, Michigan State University, 2010 M.A. African/International Studies, Ohio University, 2005 B.A. History (Honors) and Development Studies, University of The Gambia, 2004

Research Interests

Dr. Sarr is a historian of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries West Africa. His research interests include slavery, Islam, and agrarian change in pre-colonial Africa with special interest in oral history. His current book project, Land Fever in a River Valley Society: Property, Power and Dependency in the Lower Gambia Basin, c.1790s-1920s, questions the assumptions of most of the literature that African societies have generally valued people more than land, and that the sense of property was a colonial and modern imposition. His study looks closely at two groups of people: the mansas or chiefs and their courts, and Muslim leaders who came into the region increasingly in the late 19th century and made Islam the dominant faith and practice in the Gambia basin.

He is also working on a scholarly biography of Samuel Forster (c.1873-1940). Forster, a Gambian Aku, was one of the first Africans to study at Oxford, became a barrister and a judge. He received a knighthood in 1930.

Courses Taught

Sarr teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses on pre-colonial and modern African history, the Atlantic slave trade, and comparative slave systems.

HIST 104: World History Since 1500
HIST 116: The Age of Global Contact
HIST 116: The Deep Roots of Globalization
HIST 272: Pre-colonial Africa
HIST 273: Modern Africa
HIST 592: The Atlantic Slave Trade

Honors and Awards

  • SMCM Maryland Heritage Scholar, 2008
  • Michigan State University Dissertation Fellowship, 2009, 2010
  • Donald Lamars Award, 2009
  • Compton Peace & Conflict Fellowship
  • Kenneth E. Correy Research Enhancement Award
  • Summer Language Study Fellowship
  • St. Mary's College of Maryland Peace Program Travel Award, 2007
  • Department of History MSU Travel Award, 2007



"Review of A. E. Afigbo, The Abolition of the Slave Trade in Southeastern Nigeria, 1885-1950," African Studies Quarterly, Spring 2009.

 “Fighting over Rice Swamps: Conflict and Community Across the Gambia River Basin, Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,”   Mande Studies

"Children Turned Clerks': Childhood, Education, and Employment in An African Colonial City, Bathurst 1930-1940s" Under consideration at Child in Africa: an Interdisciplinary Journal.

Professor Sarr's dissertation is entitled "Land and Historical Change in a River Valley: Property, Power and Dependency in the Lower Gambia Basin, Nineteeth and Early Twentieth Centuries"

Papers and Presentations

  • "Why land and Not Wealth-in-People? The Centrality of Land In Africa Before the twentieth-Century." Presented at "David Robinson and the Writing of African History" conference-a conference in honor of Professor David Robinson, MSU, East Lansing, April 30-May 1, 2010.
  • "'Seeking Chiefly Authority and Conqueirng Fetish Lands: Land, Power and Society in the 19th Century Lower Gambia River Valley" African Studies Association Conference, New Research on Senegambian History Panel, accepted for November 2009.
  • "Being Children and Black-Coated Workers": The Young Clerks From the Bathurst Elementary Schools in hte 1930s and 1940s" Delivered at Including Children: Celebrating 10 Years of the Institute of the African Child Conference, Ohio University, March 12-14, 2009.
  • "Mande Land Ownership on the Atlantic Rim: Senegal and Gambia" Paper accepted for the MANSA Lisbon Conference, Portugal, June 24-27, 2008.