Willis Oyugi

Assistant Professor

Oyugi 17Education

Ph.D., History, University of California, Los Angeles, 2014

M.A., History, University of California, Los Angeles, 2009

B.A., History, Miami University, OH, 2007

B.Phil., Environmental Studies, Miami University, OH, 2007


Professor Willis Okech Oyugi is an environmental historian of Africa by training and practice. His current research interests include the history and nature of human-wildlife conflicts, African environmental ideologies, and national parks as emblems of ethnic identity. At Sam, he teaches courses in African and transnational environmental histories.

Dr. Okech Oyugi’s teaching interests span a breadth of political, social, economic, cultural, and global issues. Covering pre-colonial, colonial, and independent Africa, he uses an environmental lens to explore themes and topics such as power dynamics over resource ownership and use, non-Western environmental ideologies, globalization and the politics of biodiversity, climate change, and environmental governance that are centered on the global north/global south debates. He also engages topics of marginalization that relate to food justice and food insecurity, environmental in/justice, gender, and race. With a broad interest in the field of Black diasporic studies, embedded in his courses are topics such Pan-Africanism, the slave trade, civil rights, and environmental racism that include discussions on the global Black experience.

He is currently finishing work on his first monograph, Contested Land: Maasailand, Livestock, and the Environmental History of Kenya, 1900s-1960s. The monograph examines changing Maasai-British relations of power and environmental contestations over the control of colonial Kenya’s Maasai Reserve. The study positions the Maasai pastoral livelihood and their landscape as sites of colonial contention that frustrated the attempts of the British Crown to circumscribe their traditional way of life. By analyzing Maasai reactions and resistance to the use of state-imposed livestock and environmental policies as apparatus of social control, the study seeks to advance the significance of Maasai agency in informing colonial Kenya’s environmental debates and policies. Additionally, the study analyzes the social, economic, and political processes that profoundly impacted the ability of Maasai traditional environmental knowledge alongside their livestock husbandry to mitigate ecological degradation. In doing so, the study questions an assumed Maasai “conservation ethic” that continues to inform their popular representations as paragons of ecological virtue.

Dr. Okech Oyugi joins SHSU from Oberlin College where he taught for three years soon after attaining his PhD in African history from UCLA (2014). Originally from Kenya, he enjoys the outdoors, having worked as a professional safari guide for more than 20 years.



HIST 2311: World History to 1500

HIST 2312: World History since 1500

HIST 3389: Africa - Past and Present


HIST 5098: Environmental History of Africa

Selected Publications

Book project (provisional title): Contested Land: Maasailand, Livestock, and the Environmental History of Kenya, 1900-2000. In progress.

“Maasai-British Relationships and Maasailand Ecology in Colonial Kenya, 1900-1960: Complexities and Contradictions.” In Edward Alpers, Awet Weldemichael, and Anthony Lee (eds.), Changing Horizons in African History (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2017), 173-204.

“Historicizing Ethnicity and Slave Trade Memories in Colonial Africa: The Cases for Rwanda and Northern Cameroon,” Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies, Vol 35, 1 (2016).

“A Kenyan in America Looks Home in Anguish,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 15 February 2008.