History Department Chair; Professor of History; Associate Director for Development, African Studies Center
African history, environmental history, agricultural history, the agro-ecology of tropical disease, food history, Ethiopia and East Africa
James McCann’s research and teaching interests include agricultural and ecological history of Africa, Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa, field research methods in African studies, the agro-ecology of tropical disease, and the history of food/cuisine in Africa and the Atlantic world. He is the author of five books: Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine (2010); Maize and Grace: A History of Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop (2005); Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa (1999); People of the Plow: An Agricultural History of Ethiopia (1995); From Poverty to Famine in Northeast Ethiopia: Rural History, 1900-1995.(1989). He has published articles and reviews in the American Historical Review, Journal of African History, the International Journal of African Historical Studies, Comparative Studies in Society and History, the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Environmental History, International Journal of Sustainability, and Northeast African Studies. His books have been reviewed in Nature, Foreign Affairs, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Times Educational Supplement.
Prof. McCann was named to a 2012-13 John S. Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and in 2012-13 was a Fulbright fellow in Ethiopia for completion of his sixth book on the history of malaria in Ethiopia: Like Bees in a Smoked Hive: the Historical Agro-ecology of Malaria in Ethiopia. His books have also received awards and recognition including: the George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book in Environmental History (1996 for Maize and Grace); Stirring the Pot won a 2011 “Best in the World” award from Paris’ Gourmand Magazine. He has been a two-time finalist for the Melville Herskovits Prize for Best Book in African Studies (People of the Plow, 1996 and Maize and Grace, 2006); Choice Magazine Award for Outstanding Books for the period 1980-1990 (for From Poverty to Famine),and as Outstanding book award list (for People of the Plow) for 1996. His book Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land continued to be used in university classrooms on five continents.
In 2012 taught in Germany as Hiob Ludolf Professor at the University of Hamburg. He has been a resident research fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Center (Harvard University), the Program for Agrarian Studies (Yale University), the National Humanities Center, and the Institute for Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University. He has held research grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, Fulbright-Hays, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Cotsen Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has been invited to lecture at the Royal Swedish Academy, Oxford University, the University of London-SOAS, the University of Bologna, University of Naples (Orientale), Edinburgh University, the International Center for the Improvement of Wheat and Maize (Mexico City), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF, and the University of Sussex. He has served as Ph.D. external examiner at the Université Paris I (Sorbonne) in Paris (2012), at the University of Oslo (2011), and at the University of London SOAS (2005).
In a role as a consulting field scientist on agriculture and development, he has served as consultant for OXFAM (UK), OXFAM America, Norwegian Save the Children, UNEP, and American Jewish World Service. He has been invited to give testimony at the House of Commons, Parliament and twice by the U.S. Congress.
He served for five years as Principle Investigator of a five-year Rockefeller Foundation research project in collaboration with the Harvard School of Public Health investigating the agro-ecology of the cultivation of maize and malaria transmission in Africa.