Could you introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your background?

I’m Bryan Kauma. I did my undergraduate and master’s at the University of Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, and then I got my PhD in history from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. I’m a food and environmental historian, but more importantly, I am the second-born child of two amazing parents. I have two siblings: an older brother and a younger sister. Some of my students always mention how important family is to me when they see my laptop wallpaper, which is a photo of all of us.

What sparked your interest in history?

To be honest with you, it was purely coincidental. After high school, I was offered an honors degree in economic history, and anytime I walked into a library or an archive, it just became my happy place. When you go into an archive and go through papers, you learn so much in that process. Growing up, I used to play with old regional newspapers, just reading the stories. My dad had a whole pile of them. So every Sunday, when he played music, I was at the other end of the house, going through the newspapers, arranging them by date. That also sparked my interest in history.

How did you hear about Southwestern, and why did you want to work here?

When I was living in the United Kingdom, I thought to myself I haven’t been to America, I want to go. When this opportunity came about, I was like, I’ll take it; I want the American dream. I remember an email from Professor Jess Hower; it was a standard message, but the tone was very different; it was very warm. From the day that I arrived, the whole history department has been amazing. In the cohort of people I joined with, Drs Meagan Solomon, Sonia Del Hierro, Amanda Hernandez, Adriana Ponce, and Alex Godwin, if you see us all talking, you’d think these people have known each other for years. And yet, I’ve only been in America for less than six months, and they’ve made life very easy for me. What I’ve experienced so far, at the interpersonal level of different people, it was a good choice. Plus, it is a lovely place.

What classes do you teach?

I’m currently teaching a food in world history class and a themes in African history class. Two things that I love the most are African history and food. Food connects people in different ways, and we don’t contextualize the factors that influence or shape these things. So I saw how food is politics, and it’s an emotional social construct. In the African history course, we talk about African history. I’ve noticed in America, we know so much about America, some about Europe, and little bits and pieces about Asia, and close to very little about Africa. And what we do know about Africa is either closely linked to slavery or nothing beyond. We discuss different important themes. We talk about the ideas of colonization, race, environmental change, agriculture, and how good the food is there and how it has developed. I enjoy that class. I have a beautiful class with actively engaged students, so I love both classes.

Is there a historical figure or time period that is your favorite to teach to teach and why?

That’s a hard question. I don’t want to shine a light on these big historical figures, and I would rather speak to our grandparents. In particular, great grandparents, because there are so many stories that they have, and they have influenced our families in so many ways. I would love to actually learn the history of our families. I have so many questions like, where did we come from? When I look at my family tree, for instance, it’s a huge maze because they moved from one country to the next, and so I would like to know the inspiration behind all those movements and how they felt. And also to gain some sort of self-identity. The reason I love research is I get to speak to people, and they have the best stories. You learn a lot about their experiences, what they went through, and how they feel. So I would like to speak to any grown-up from two generations ago to learn how they lived through those times.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I’m always working, but I love visiting places and traveling. I love traveling because I love experimenting with different foods. And I also listen to music. Oh, I love music. I used to be a DJ actually, in my past life. It’s relaxing. I’m also a whiskey and wine connoisseur. I enjoy collecting them, but funnily enough, I don’t drink them as much; it’s just a fun hobby.

What is something students would be surprised to learn about you?

I can DJ; I’m always playing music when my students walk into class. They’ll also be surprised to know that I am good at sports. I love sports like soccer, swimming, cricket, and music.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like people to know about you?

Oh, yes, I love barbecues, the ones over a fire, not gas. It’s a whole social event, starting with making the fire and then cooking the meat. I love that. I’m also a very good cook. There’s an expectation that, yes, I teach food history, so I should be a good cook. I don’t follow the rules of the kitchen. Hence, people will be shocked when the meal comes out tasting quite nice.

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