I am a historian of the western Indian Ocean with an interest in mobility and social history between Africa, Arabia, and India. My book Buying Time: Debt and Mobility in the Western Indian Ocean captures the dynamism of this far-reaching Indian Ocean world in the nineteenth century.  I was trained as an Africanist with a focus on the Swahiliphone world, and I continued to be drawn to the intersections of African histories and global histories, from ancient trade routes to the human immunodeficiency virus.


2008 Ph.D. Yale University, History

1993 Visiting Student, University of Dar es Salaam, History and Swahili

1993 B.A. Yale University, History and African Studies



Buying Time: Debt and Mobility in the Western Indian Ocean, Ohio University Press (2018)

Articles and Book Chapters

“Deeds of Freed Slaves: Manumission and Economic and Social Mobility in Pre-Abolition Zanzibar,” in Indian Ocean Slavery in the Age of Abolition, eds. Robert W. Harms, Bernard K. Freamon and David W. Blight, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 162-179.

“Trafficking in Persianness: Richard Burton between Mimicry and Similitude in Indian Ocean and Persianate Worlds,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 30, no. 3 (2010), 491-511.

“Being Baysar: (In)flexible Identities in East Africa,” The MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies 5 (Fall 2005): 34-42.


Gwyn Campbell, Suzanne Miers, and Joseph C. Miller, eds. Women and Slavery. Volume I: Africa, the Indian Ocean World, and the Medieval Atlantic. Volume II: The Modern Atlantic (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007), in African Studies Review, 53:1 (April 2010): 166-167.

Popular Publications and Media

A Century of HIV,” Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective 12:3 (December 2018).

With Jesse Kwiek and Kathy Lancaster, “HIV/AIDS: Past, Present and FutureHistory Talk Podcast, December 2018.

Searching for Wakanda: The African Roots of the Black Panther Story,Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, 15 February 2018. (Republished by Quartz Digital Media as “Black Panther’s Wakanda Has Historical Roots in Nuclear-age Congo” 27 February 2018).


Thomas F. McDow

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