Faculty and Staff


Jill E.  Kelly

Assistant Professor
African History
South African History

Dallas Hall Room 58-E

Educational Background

PhD, Michigan State University, 2012
BA, Saint Vincent College, 2004

Kelly CV 2015-04-15

Scholarly Awards, Fellowships, and Grants

2015 American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship
2010-2011 Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad, South Africa
2010-2011 Fulbright-IIE U.S. Student Fellowship (Declined)
2012 Michigan State University Graduate School Dissertation Completion Fellowship
2012 Donald Lammers Graduate Student Award
2008 Nnamdi Azikiwe Best Graduate Student Paper in African Studies (MSU African Studies)
2008 MSU Department of History Pre-Dissertation Research Grant
2007 Fulbright-Hays Zulu Group Project Abroad in South Africa
2006-2009 FLAS, MSU African Studies Center – Zulu


  • “Bantu Authorities and Betterment: The Ambiguous Responses of Natal’s Chiefs and Regents, 1955-1970,” Journal of Southern African Studies 41, no. 2 (2015).
  • “Women Were Not Supposed to Fight”: The Gendered Uses of Martial and Moral Zuluness during uDlame (1990-1994) in Jan Bender Shetler (ed.), Gendering Ethnicity in African Women’s Lives. University of Wisconsin Press (May 2015).
  • “‘It is because of our Islam that we are there’: The Call of Islam in the United Democratic Front,” African Historical Review 41, no. 1 (Jul 2009): 118-139.


Chiefs by the People: Land, Conflict and Authority in 20th Century South Africa

The project examines how Africans in rural KwaZulu-Natal deployed differing ideas about traditional authority and belonging in a chiefdom to contest land over the course of the twentieth century. It pays attention to the Zulu proverb “inkosi yinkosi ngabantu” (a chief is a chief because of the people who pay allegiance to him) to highlight the role of colonial and apartheid governments in the appointment and succession of Zulu chiefs (amakhosi), the engendering of debates over legitimacy and chiefly authority, boundary conflicts, so-called faction fights, and competing land claims. While some scholars have argued that colonialism succeeded in divorcing chiefs from social and political relationships with their subjects by connecting them to territory, my book suggests that traditional leaders deployed both definitions of authority—people and land—to legitimate their power during the transformations of the twentieth century. Chiefs adapted to dimensions of territorial governance, but some still honored the social contract implied in the Zulu proverb and its memory remained historically salient among both leaders and their followers. Drawing on archives and oral history interviews, the book focuses on relationships between two neighboring Zulu chiefdoms that contested boundaries and chiefly legitimacy by wielding these dual—and not always competing—definitions. The Nyavu, whose chieftaincy predated the rise of the Zulu state under Shaka, made claims on land and authority based on their hereditary status and historical land use against the neighboring Maphumulo established in the region by the British. Though Maphumulo chiefs initially received their power by colonial decree, over time they promoted their authority through connections to both the land and their followers. During apartheid, the creation of Tribal Authorities and later the KwaZulu bantustan exacerbated these contests over access to land and political legitimacy, erupting in deadly violence in the two chiefdoms during KwaZulu-Natal’s transition-era civil war. The book builds upon concerns of historians about the importance of land for chiefly legitimacy and establishes other grounds for authority, including resource allocation, security in times of conflict, and, particularly in the latter half of the twentieth century, progressive politics. Following the relationship between these two chiefdoms across the twentieth century reveals how both chiefs and their people adapted and deployed strategies for building social and political relationships. 

Last updated 04/15