Dawson McCall

Senior Men’s Race 5th Athletics Kenya Cross Country Series-Anti-Doping Awareness with Saturday Market in Background (Location Field, Iten, Kenya – January 4, 2020) (Photo Credit: Dawson McCall)

I am a Ph.D. candidate at MSU studying Modern African History with a particular emphasis on the social history of Kenyan sports and education. My historical approach is informed by theories and debates that have emerged out of the study of social history, postcolonial thought, gender studies, nationalism, development theory, and morality studies, especially as they relate to schools and sport in African contexts.

Through the study of Kenyan sports and education, my research counters depictions of 20th Century African societies as either battlegrounds of hegemony and agency or deeply ethnicized landscapes of unchanging and disconnected communities, both of which perpetuate the West as a reference point for the study of Africa and Africans. As recent scholars have demonstrated, in the midst of 20th Century colonial and neo-colonial challenges, African societies have demonstrated the creative ability to incorporate external influences – such as technology, music, sports, and language – into African daily life, while at the same time retaining ownership over important local and regional values, ideals, knowledge, cultural practices, and social interactions, and at times creating new and distinctly African systems of industry, artistic expression, and social organization that demonstrate a strong tradition of African socio-cultural continuity, creativity, and community interaction.

My dissertation, titled “Run, Pray, Read at St. Patrick’s High School: A Social History of Irish Missionary Education, Global Runningscapes, and Community Building in Iten, Kenya,” contributes to this African centered and de-ethnicizing approach by providing a detailed case study of the history of St Patrick’s High School in Iten, Kenya. A Catholic school founded by Irish missionaries in the lower Rift Valley region kwown as Elgeyo-Marakwet in 1961, St Patrick’s is considered one of the country’s most famous and influential schools in both sports and academics, making it a valuable window into the role played by African students and teachers in the formation of 20th Century Kenyan sports and education. My commitment to centering African voices and perspectives means that my work relies on a mix of oral testimonies and written sources from former St Patrick’s students and teachers, personal papers from former St Patrick’s school officials, national archival materials, and Kenyan newspapers.

By tracing the history of St Patrick’s High School, Iten, my research tackles important themes in post-colonial Kenyan history. These include the historically entangled nature of the country’s educational and sporting practices, the central role played by schools and sport in development projects such as nation-building, community development and economic expansion, the power of sport and schools to inform both the conceptualization and performance of gender, the function of schools and sport as representative experiences of “Kenyanness,” the central role of Kenyan athletes and institutions in the transformation of global running landscapes, and the role of sport and education in Kenyan hero-making and the creation of nostalgia, especially among Kenyan men.

I argue that the emergence of Kenya’s world-renowned sporting culture is intimately tied to the values and ideals fostered in Kenya’s national schools, such as St Patrick’s. These include values like competition, discipline, hard work, individual improvement, group cohesiveness, cosmopolitanism, and community development, and are not merely legacies of the colonial period nor simply tools appropriated for the expression of Kenyan agency in the face of colonial and neo-colonial challenges. Rather, they are the product of complex historical interactions between African and non-African sources of knowledge, socio-cultural practice, conceptions of identity, and aspirational dreams of achievement that constitute an important example of historical entanglement. St Patrick’s High School, Iten is a compelling example of this intersection of local, regional, and global forces, and a valuable case study through which to understand and explore Kenyan history.

My interests in these topics stem from a long personal relationship with the fields of history, sport, and education. As an undergraduate student at Loyola University, New Orleans, I studied history and played inter-collegiate basketball. Prior to coming to MSU for graduate research, I spent ten years as a high school history teacher, specializing in Global History and US Government, and coached basketball/track/cross-country in Southern Mississippi and Louisiana. During this time, I led several study-abroad trips with high school students, funded by grants from the US State Department and group fund-raising efforts, to various locales in East Africa and the Middle East. In 2015, I was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities to attend the Africa in World History Summer Institute for School Teachers, held at MSU and headed by Dr Nwando Achebe. In addition, as a coach, my cross-country and track teams regularly competed for and won district and state championships in both boys and girls divisions.

Since arriving at MSU, I have received several grants for both research and the acquisition of African language skills. From June, 2019 to April, 2020, I conducted dissertation research in Kenya with the support of the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship, administered by the US Department of State. During my dissertation research, I was an affiliated researcher scholar at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya and the United States International University-Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, and was fortunate to travel throughout central and western Kenya conducting interviews, observational fieldwork, and archival research. Prior to this, I conducted pre-dissertation research in Kenya, funded by the MSU History Department and the MUS College of Social Science, and took part in Kiswahili language training in Tanzania through a grant from the US Department of Education’s Foreign Language and Area Studies Program.

My graduate assistantship responsibilities at MSU have included teaching assistant positions for courses in World History, US and the World, and US History to 1876, as well as research assistant positions in MSU’s Lab for the Education and Advancement of Digital Research, where I worked with undergraduate students to help in the instruction and integration of digital humanities in their coursework.

With Professor Mike Boit (St Patrick’s graduate, former Olympian, and current professor) in Nandi Country, Kenya (Near Kaptumo) (August, 2019)

General Areas of Study: African History, Sports, Education

Research Specialization: 20th Century East Africa; History of Sport; History of Education; Gender; Hegemony and Agency; Oral History.

Committee: Laura Fair (Chair), Peter Alegi, Walter Hawthorne, Bethany Wilinski

Research Language(s): Kiswahili