Catherine Higgs


Ph.D., Yale University, 1993
M.Phil, Yale University, 1987
M.A., Yale University, 1985
B.A. (Hons.), Queen’s University at Kingston, 1984


Professor Higgs is a scholar of modern African history, and has traveled widely in Africa and Europe. Her books include The Ghost of Equality: The Public Lives of D.D.T. Jabavu of South Africa, 1885-1959 (1997), and with Barbara A. Moss and Earline Rae Ferguson, Stepping Forward: Black Women in Africa and the Americas (2002). Her new monograph, Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa, was published by Ohio University Press in May 2012. Written for a broad audience, Chocolate Islands is a narrative history that traces the African journey of Joseph Burtt, who was hired by the chocolate firm Cadbury Brothers to determine if it was purchasing—as critics claimed—slave-produced cocoa from the Portuguese colony of São Tomé and Príncipe. Burtt traveled to the islands, and to Angola, Mozambique, and South Africa. Chocolate Islands explores the competing meanings of the dignity of labor in colonial Africa, and reveals the idealism, naivety, and racism that shaped attitudes toward Africa, even among those who sought to improve the conditions of its workers. Professor Higgs recently completed the research for her planned third monograph, Sisters for Justice: Religion and Activism in Apartheid South Africa, and spent the 2012-2013 academic year as a residential fellow at the National Humanities Center where she began writing the manuscript. Sisters for Justice examines Catholic religious sisters as citizen activists who confronted the segregationist state and who by their actions, helped contribute to its dismantling. It is a historical analysis of how soft diplomacy and local measures by minor religious actors can help transform national policy.

Professor Higgs’ courses incorporate her interests in colonialism, women’s history, religion, politics, and policy in modern Africa. She teaches the African history survey (700-2000 CE), a course on South African history, the second part of the world history survey (1400-2000 CE), and graduate courses on African history and teaching world history.


  • Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2012
  • “The Cabra Dominican Sisters and the ‘Open Schools’ Movement in Apartheid South Africa.” With Margaret Kelly, OP. International Studies in Catholic Education. Vol. 4, No. 1 (March 2012): 4-15.
  • “Silence, Disobedience, and African Catholic Sisters in Apartheid South Africa.” African Studies Review 54 2 (September 2011): 1-22.
  • “Embracing Activism in Apartheid South Africa: The Sisters of Mercy in Bophuthatswana, 1974-1994.” With Jean N. Evans, R.S.M. The Catholic Historical Review (July 2008): 500-521.
  • “Zenzele: African Women’s Self-Help Organizations in South Africa, 1927-1998.” African Studies Review 47 3 (December 2004): 119-141.
  • Stepping Forward: Black Women in Africa and the Americas. Edited by Catherine Higgs, Barbara A. Moss, and Earline Rae Ferguson. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002.
  • The Ghost of Equality: The Public Lives of D.D.T. Jabavu of South Africa, 1885-1959. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997

Selected Honors and Awards

  • National Humanities Center John E. Sawyer Fellowship, 2012-2013
  • University of Tennessee Award for New Research, Scholarly, and Creative Projects in the Arts and Humanities, 2008 and 2009.
  • American Philosophical Society Sabbatical Fellowship, 2005-2006.
  • Luso-American Development Foundation Grant, National Library of Portugal, Summer 2004.
  • University of Tennessee Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, 2004