Akil Cornelius joined our top-ranked African history program in 2013. His research specializations include 19th and 20th century South Africa, migration and mobility studies, as well as a disciplinary sub-specialization in archaeology.
The relationships between identity, technology and asymmetric warfare are central themes explored in his forthcoming dissertation which is provisionally titled, The Venda Armory: Ritual Power, Gender, Gun Running and Disarmament in a South African Kingdom, 1820 to 1903. This multidisciplinary project examines the history of Venda—the last independent South African kingdom of the precolonial era—and its people, who resisted European aggression until 1898. As elsewhere in Africa, Venda people buttressed their sovereignty with firearms and they successfully preserved their independence until the eve of the South African War. Yet, it was the unique role of women, in the vanguard of a musket-toting military, which distinguished Venda people and their fighting traditions from their seemingly invincible neighbors in Zululand. While they also optimized antiquated muskets, and smuggled firearms to regional allies, archival and artefactual sources suggest that guns were in fact a late addition to a preexisting security architecture that included quotidian practices such as hunting and agriculture, which were woven into the fabric of everyday life. Drawing on evidence preserved in textual sources and deposited into the archaeological record, this research project attempts to reconstruct the hybrid fighting traditions that Venda people synthesized from local and exotic materials to preserve indigenous control over productive resources longer than any other black South African state.
A native of Co-op City in the Bronx, New York, Cornelius is a military veteran and non-traditional student who returns to graduate school following a twelve-year career in the U.S. Intelligence Community, to include active duty service in the Middle East and Western Balkans. His previous academic and professional training includes a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Washington College and a Master of Arts in Peace & Conflict Studies from Norwich University as well as professional certifications from the U.S. Army Intelligence Training Center at Ft. Huachuca, AZ, and the Red Team Analyst Course at the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies, Ft. Leavenworth, KS.
Starting in December 2017, Cornelius will begin a year of field research in South Africa with generous support from the Fulbright Scholarship Program.
Fields of Interest: South(ern) Africa; migration; archeology; technology and firearms
Advisor: Peter Alegi