Lydia Wilson Marshall

Entered 2004


Regional focus: Africa.

Topical interests: Fugitive slaves, historical archaeology, household archaeology, public archaeology, community formation, multiethnic communities.

My dissertation investigates how people escaping slavery formed communities in 19th-century Kenya. Analysis centers on the economic insularity and cultural heterogeneity of runaway slave groups. First, the project explores the relative economic integration into regional networks. Second, it investigates the extent to which fugitive slaves developed homogenized sociocultural norms or maintained long-term cultural plurality. The above inquiries benefit from an archaeological and ethnohistorical comparison of fugitive slave groups and the coastal hinterland communities that neighbored them. These comparisons reveal the plasticity of ethnic identities for all hinterland groups and a concurrent need in runaway slave communities for both isolation from and connection to outsiders.

Based on a year of fieldwork in Kenya, my dissertation contributes to several broader interregional and cross-disciplinary dialogues. Runaway slave or maroon studies is best developed in the Americas, where archaeologists, historians, and cultural anthropologists with a wide variety of research goals have engaged such refugees and their descendants. Community creation, particularly ethnogenesis, remains the dominant research theme in such studies. This project offers a divergent sociocultural context and remarkably fluid power dynamic in which to consider fugitive slave community formation: my research thus facilitates cross-cultural interpretations of slavery and its legacies. Second, this project engages broader anthropological inquiries into community formation. Fugitive slaves in Eastern Africa were generally strangers to one another when they settled together in the equally unfamiliar coastal hinterland landscape. The communities they formed faced high risks of raids and re-enslavement. Improvised under stress by people of dissimilar cultural background and social experience, fugitive slave groups in Eastern Africa provide researchers with valuable case studies from which to extrapolate more broadly about community creation and maintenance. Third, like other recent studies of how slavery and the slave trade displaced Africans within Africa, this project aligns with a multidisciplinary effort to include the continent in African Diasporic studies. Finally, this project is itself multidisciplinary-coupling oral histories and archaeological data collected in the field with available documentary evidence. My dissertation provides a case study of how to constructively meld these divergent data types. Rather than expecting documentary, oral historical, and archaeological data to confirm one another, this dissertation explores how both the resonances and dissonances between these data types can advance and enrich analysis.

MA Paper: A Historical Archaeology of Fugitive Slaves and Enslaved Plantation Workers in 19th-Century Kenya


  • 2009 Fugitive Slave Communities in 19th-Century Kenya: A Preliminary Report on Recent Archaeological and Historical Research. Nyame Akuma. 72: 21-29.
  • 2007 Economic Organization and Cultural Cohesion in the Coastal Hinterland of 19th-Century Kenya: An Archaeology of Fugitive Slave Communities. African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter. (September 2007). Electronic document:
  • 2004. (with Simon Gatheru.) Making and Using Stone Tools: Outdoor Interpretation Programme at Kariandusi Museum. Nairobi: National Museums of Kenya.
  • 2003. Making and Using Stone Tools: An Interactive Educational Programme at Kariandusi Museum. Kenya Past and Present. 34: 43-6. (with Simon Gatheru).