Welcome Green Mountain

Academics at Prescott College

Mary Poole, Ph.D.

Faculty / Director, Kenya Dopoi Center

Mary teaches and publishes in the arenas of U.S. and African history, with emphasis on histories of social movements, race, class and gender, critical social theory, and decolonizing research methods. Her academic focus has for the past decade been involved with her collaborative work with activists o the indigfenous Maasai community of Kenya, especially in regard to land rights.  She works closely with Maasai community leader, Meitamei Olol Dapash, and together they are in the final stages of a manuscriipt describing their work over the past 15 years, Decolonizing History in Maasailand: Land, Identity, and Cultural Survival. 

Mary came to Prescott College in 2003 with a background in Public Policy, a doctorate in U.S. History, and experience in international development and indigenous rights, all of which has informed her teaching at PC. She teaches interdisciplinary undergraduate courses that emphasize historical structural inequality and mechanisms of change, such as The Colorline in U.S. History; History of Gender and SexualitySocial Movements, and History of Conflict in the Southwest.  Mary helped to design and teaches Decolonizing Research and Global Social Movements in the college's resident Master's Program in Social Justice and Human Rights, and also teaches Research Methods to students of the PhD program in Sustainability Education. Through all of her courses, Mary teaches students to pay attention to how history is culturally produced, a narrative constructed in ways that reify or challenge existing power relations. As Co-Director, with Meitamei Olol Dapash, of the Maasai Community Partnership Project, Mary leads PC students to Kenya every summer to undertake historical and other research on behalf of the Maasai community, especially research that supports the community's interest in recovering land taken under British colonization and reoccupied under Kenyan Independence. In this and other ways, Mary believes that history provides a valuable resource to social justice work, as it reveals possibilities that exist beyond our current imaginations and information useful to politically and economically marginalized communities. Mary's first book, The Segregated Origins of Social Security: African Americans and the Welfare State (UNC: 2006) explores the history of race discrimination and social policy. In addition to the book on decolonizing Maasai history mentioned above, she is also currently co-authoring Meitamei's autobiography: London is Burning: the Life of a Maasai Activist.   



PhD in U.S. History, minor degree in Women's History, Rutgers University, 2000

BA in Political Economy and Education, The Evergreen State College, 1988



Project Description for Mary Poole and Meitamei Olol Dapash, Decolonizing History in Maasailand: Land, Identity, and Cultural Survival

The last couple of decades has seen a reframing of history of post-colonial societies through the lens of the indigenous communities that continue to coexist with nation sates, including those in North America, Australia and New Zealand. This approach has not yet been extended to recovering and decolonizing the histories of Indigenous communities on the African continent. Decolonizing History in Maasailand: Land, Identity, and Cultural Survival speaks to that absence. It presents for the first time a reframing of the history of the nation state of Kenya, through the lens of the indigenous Maasai community, which was denied sovereignty at Kenyan independence but continues to struggle for its land rights and cultural identity. Like other Indigenous peoples in East Africa, the Maasai community has been relegated to Kenya’s past, and it is barely recognized in scholarly histories of Kenya since statehood in 1963 as a continuing political and cultural reality. But the Maasai community, which is bifurcated by the Kenya/Tanzania border, is very much alive today as is known throughout East Africa. The Kenyan nation was founded on the ‘empty’ land from which the Maasai community had been removed through British colonization. That land was renamed “white” land by Kenyan nationalists, who oversaw the redistribution of Maasai homeland to settlers from the politically and economically dominant Central Kenyan communities who inherited the Kenyan state.  

Bringing Maasai history back into the frame contributes to scholarly and activist conversations about the meaning of “Indigenous” in African contexts. It describes the Indigenous identity of the Maasai people as a fully modern reality, based not in blood quantum but in a cultural accountability to particular land and ecology. It sheds light on the mechanisms of neocolonialism in African places, the redistribution of land necessitated by consolidation of wealth under states, and the severance of people from land under conditions of global capitalism. Decolonizing History in Maasailand disrupts the unified history of Kenya built over the past 50 years, especially the claim that Kenya was founded on a consensus of the people it encompasses. The book also explores the production of Kenyan and Maasai history through the past 50 years, with particular attention to the frame established through the Independence era by nationalist historians, and the following generations of social historians led by U.S. scholars.

Decolonization in Maasailand  will be the first scholarly manuscript that brings the questions that animate the field of Indigenous Critical Studies to the study of the history of an African indigenous community.  It is the first scholarly book about Maasai history co-written by a Maasai person. Popular books and autobiographies have been written by Maasai authors, but historical scholarship has been written entirely by outsiders to the community.  It will be the first published account to reframe Kenyan history from the perspective of an Indigenous community, and to emphasize the role of land occupation in the making of the Kenyan state.  The book also presents an innovative theoretical approach to decolonizing history of an Indigenous community that through collaboration with western historians.  It presents research into the history of the loss an especially important section of Maasailand, which was presented to Maasai community leadership in 2008 and led to a now famous court case for the return of the land. The book describes the land rights movement that grew out of that history, as an example of ways that research can be used, not just to theorize systems of inequality, but to actually shift power through the production of knowledge of use to the struggles of Indigenous and other marginal communities.



Decolonizing Resarch; Maasai and Kenyan History; U.S. History; Women’s History;  Social Justice and Movement theory; Critical Theory; Indigenous History and Rights; Human Rights; Race, Gender and Sexuality



Mary Poole and Meitamei Olol Dapash, Decolonizing Research in Maasailand: Land, Identity, and Cultural Survival [In Progress, 250 draft completed. Expexted to be published in 2017.]

Meitamei Olol Dapash and Mary Poole, London is Burning: The Life of a Maasai Activist, co-written with Meitamei Olol Dapash. [In Progress; 200+ page draft completed. Expected completion date:Summer, 2017

MaryPoole, The Segregated Origins of Social Security: African Americans and the Welfare State (University of North Carolina Press, 2006)




Sample Academic Conference Presentations

“Reframing Maasai History,” Dopoi Center History Conference, Ndoinyo Oloip, Kenya, July, 2016

“Academic Activism in Maasailand,” Ecojustice and Activism Conference, Eastern Michigan University, March, 2016

Policy and Justice Panel, Women’s History in Motion Conference, Columbia University, April, 2016

 “Decolonizing Research in Maasailand,” Academic Activism, Columbia University, March, 2014

 “Environmental Justice in Maasailand: Neocolonialism and Landrights,” Environmental Justice Conference, Prescott College, 2013

 “Alice Kessler-Harris: An Historian’s Contribution to Social Justice,” Panel Presentation, Organization of American Historians, April, 2012

  “Race and the Social Security Act,” Race and the New Deal, Conference at Sarah Lawrence University, April, 2007

“Walking Our Talk,” Ripple Project, Prescott College, December 2006

 “AIDS in Maasailand,” Keynote Address, World AIDS day, Northland Cares, Prescott, Arizona, March, 2005

 “Social Movements in the 1930s,” Notion of Motion Conference, Long Island University, April, 2005

 “Race and Maternalism” New Directions in the History of the Welfare State, Berkshire Women’s History Conference, Storrs, Connecticut, June, 2002

 “Gender, Race and Motherhood: The U.S. Children’s Bureau’s Plan for the Social Security Act,” Twenty-Second Annual North American Labor History Conference, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, 2000

Mary speaks regularly at public meetings and events on a wide range of topics related to her work. These includeA Sample list includes:

  • Presentation of Research on Community Water Use,” Eorr Emayian, Kenya, August 2014
  • “What the U.S. Civil Rights Movements Can Teach Us about Land Rights Activism in Maasailand,” Narok, Kenya, July, 2013
  • “Cultural Appropriation,” Presentation to Prescott Community, Prescott College, November, 2012, PC
  • “Maintaining Vision in the Trenches,” University Temple Methodist Church, Seattle, May 2012
  • “The Meaning of Sustainability in an East African Community,” Arizona Rotary Awards dinner, Prescott, Arizona, May 2012
  • “The Challenge of Raising Money for Community Based Activism,” Association of Professional Fundraisers, Prescott, March, 2012
  • “Water Means Education: The Mosiro Water Project in Maasailand,” Prescott Sunup Rotary  Club, Prescott, Arizona, November 2011
  • “Maasai Women and Empowerment,” Prescott Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Prescott, Arizona, October, 2011
  • “Mau Narok and the New Kenyan Constitution,” Presentation to Maasai Community, Seasons Hotel, Narok, Kenya, August 2011
  • “Mau Narok and the New Kenyan Constitution,” Presentation to Maasai Students and Activists, Maasai Education and Research Institute, Talek, Kenya, July, 2011
  • “A Movement in Maasailand,” University Temple Methodist Church, Seattle, October 2010
  • “A Century of Land Rights Denied: A History of Mau Narok,” Presentation to Maasai Community Leadership and Activists, Seasons Hotel, Narok, Kenya, August 2010.
  • “The Maasai Community Partnership Project and Global Service,” Radio Interview, Purposeful Planning Institute, October 2009
  • “The Meaning of Race as a Social Construct,” Talk at Granite Peak Unitarian Universalist Church, Prescott, Arizona, September 2009“
  • Water is Life in Maasailand,” Presentation to Arizona Rotary District Conference, Laughlin, AZ, May 2009
  • “Children and Education in Maasailand,” Extine Middle School, Seattle, January 2009
  • “Academic Activism,” The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington, January 2009
  • “Land Loss at Mau Narok Under Colonial and Independent Kenya: Findings from the Kenyan Archives,” Presentation to Maasai Community, Seasons Hotel, Narok, Kenya, August, 2008
  • “White Privilege,” Presentation to Community, Prescott College, April 2008
  • “Water is Life in Keekonyokie, Maasailand,” Presentation to the Asheville Rotary Club, Asheville, North Carolina, January 2008
  • “Social Change,” Panel Discussion, Prescott College, February 2007
  • “Community Environmental Activism in Maasailand,” Prescott Area Bioneers Conference, Fall 2007
  • “A Case for Indigenous Knowledge Based Conservation: A History of Amboseli National Park,” Presentation to Kaijaido County Council, County Council Offices, Kaijaido, Kenya, August 2006
  • “Segregated Origins of Social Security” Book Launch, Prescott College, April 2006
  • District Governors Presentation, Prescott Rotary, July, 2005
  • “Crisis and Opportunity in Maasailand: Community Perspectives on Land-use, Conservation and Tourism,” Presentation to Narok County Council, County Council Offices, Narok, Kenya, May, 2005
  • “Historical Context for the Iraq War,” Prescott Community Teach-In, April, 2003



KYCA Radio Interview on Social Justice and Human Rights Masters Program and the Maasai Community Partnership Project, June, 2013

Television Interview: Book Talk, C-Span Television Network, on The Segregated Origins of Social Security: African Americans and the Welfare State, April 2007

Press Conference and Interview, “Maasai Community Calls for Return of Amboseli National Park,” with Meitamei Olol Dapash, Joseph Ole Sayialel, Daniel Ole Leturesh, Covered by NTV, CitizenTV, Daily Nation, Standard, and other Kenyan television and press, Nairobi, August, 2006

  • “Segregated Origins of Social Security,” Urbana NPR Interview, May, 2006
  • “Segregated Origins of Social Security,” KYCA Radio Interview, 2006

Instruction at Prescott College

Instruction at Prescott College

Global Studies

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Social Justice & Community Organizing

The Masters in Social Justice and Community Organizing program prepares students and develops skills for a lifetime of... Read More

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Gender Studies

Gender Studies investigates questions of power organized around differences of gender. Read More

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Regional Studies

Regional Studies is the study of specific regions and their relationships to larger world systems, including the social,... Read More

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Social Justice & Community Organizing

The Masters in Social Justice and Community Organizing program* prepares students and develops skills for a lifetime of... Read More

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