Dr. Halimat Somotan is a scholar of colonial and postcolonial Africa specializing in the histories of cities and urban planning. Her teaching interests include the history of housing, decolonization, and African cities. Her current book project, Decolonizing the City: Popular Politics and the Making of Postcolonial Lagos, examines how ordinary Lagosians experienced and contested Nigeria’s transition from colonial rule to independence. It shows how landlords, tenants, and female traders challenged and sought to reform governmental policies concerning slum clearance, rent control, state land acquisition, and sanitation. The manuscript argues that Lagosians went beyond supporting nationalist movements but consistently pushed for urban reforms under both civilian and military regimes to ensure their longevity in the city and improve urban policies. The research has implications for understanding contemporary megacity urban development and residents’ everyday challenges against displacement.
Somotan’s committed to excavating unknown voices in order to show the competing approaches undertaken by individuals and collectives to create different futures. Therefore, she draws on wide-ranging sources from oral interviews, newspapers, petitions, Yoruba songs, to novels. She’s currently preparing part of her research for publication in historical journals, which will highlight the popular voices that challenged urban displacement in late colonial Lagos.
Born and raised in Ibadan, Nigeria, Somotan received her Ph.D. in History from Columbia University in 2020. Before arriving at CMU, she was a Postdoctoral Research Associate/Lecturer at Princeton University, where she co-taught an African Studies course and co-organized the African Urbanism (s) Series. Her research has been funded by organizations such as the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, the University of Virginia, the Council on Library and Information, and the Mellon Foundation.