Nancy Jacobs is Professor of History at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Her work at the intersection of the environmental and social history of Africa has been bookended by the single-authored Environment, Power, and Injustice: A South African History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) and the co-edited Environment, Power, and Justice: Southern African Histories (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2022).
She moved into the history of knowledge with Birders of Africa: History of a Network (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016). Drawing on actor-network theory and narrating with biography, it explored the racial and colonial politics of knowing birds through vernacular and scientific traditions.
At the MPIWG she is a member of the Animal Mobilities Working Group in Department III. Her project “The Global Grey Parrot” is a study of interspecies politics that puts a charismatic African animal at the center of world history. It begins in African forests before 1500 and then expands to other continents. Now, in the Anthropocene, parrots are bred in agro-industrial facilities, trafficked as commodities, and increasingly consigned to human spaces. Parrots produce knowledge and culture, but isolated in captivity, they cannot. As historical actors, parrots were making worlds all along.
Jacobs is Vice President of the American Society for Environmental History.