Lorelle D. Semley


History Department
Africana Studies
Peace & Conflict Studies
Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies

Ph.D., Northwestern University

Fields: Modern West Africa, French imperialism, gender, and the Atlantic world

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Email: lsemley@holycross.edu
Office Phone: 508-793-2769
Office: O'Kane 388
PO Box: 146A
Office Hours:


As a historian of Africa, Lorelle Semley teaches over 4,000 years of African history from ancient Egypt to the latest news. By necessity, her courses are interdisciplinary, incorporating archaeology, anthropology, literature, film, and even You Tube videos. Her own research on modern West Africa, French imperialism, gender, and the Atlantic world also draws upon diverse source materials, far-flung archives, and multiple theoretical frameworks.

Semley’s first book Mother Is Gold, Father Is Glass: Gender and Colonialism in a Yoruba Town (Indiana University Press, 2010) analyzes the broader historical and political meanings of public motherhood in West Africa and traces the complex relationships between actual and symbolic mothers and fathers during three transformative processes: the Atlantic slave trade, French colonialism, and trans-Atlantic travel between West Africa and Brazil.

Her current book project tentatively titled, “Free and French: The Challenge of Black Citizenship to French Colonial Empire” examines how Africans and people of African descent have engaged with the rhetoric of human rights and citizenship in the French Atlantic world. Focusing on key ports and cities in Haiti, Senegal, Benin Republic, and France, this comparative study examines the changing definitions of citizen, nation, and empire during key historical moments of revolution, colonialism, World War, and decolonization. Portions of this new research have been supported by a Mellon Summer Research Grant and a Wesleyan University Center for Humanities Faculty Fellowship.


  • Early Africa to 1800
  • African History Since 1870
  • Engendering the African Diaspora
  • Muslim Africa
  • Imperial Ideas: Africans, European and the Transformation of Ideologies
  • Travel Narratives and African History
  • Women's and Gender History in Africa
  • Africa in Brazil
  • Slavery, Empire, Sexuality: African Research Seminar
  • Atlantic Africa
  • History of Human Rights in Africa and the African Diaspora