Abdul Sheriff

Abdul Sheriff is the former Director of the Zanzibar Indian Ocean Research Institute (ZIORI) and is an internationally respected author of major works on east African history.

Formerly a Professor of History at the University of Dar es Salaam, he has been an advisor on National Heritage and Principle Curator of Zanzibar Museums. In 2005, he was awarded the prestigious Prince Claus Award for his work in setting up the House of Wonders and the Sultan’s Palace, two thriving museums that showcase the rich traditions of the island of Zanzibar and help make it an important centre on the global cultural map.

McGill University awarded Professor Sheriff the Maxwell Cummings Distinguished Lectureship, which he took up in March and April of 2007 at the Indian Ocean World Centre and CDAS. While in Montreal, Professor Sheriff gave a major public lecture, a specialist seminar in the History Department and participated in the international conference on “Sex, Power & Slavery” from 19-21 April 2007, which was organized by the IOWC.

Current Research

  • The Dhow Culture of the western Indian Ocean
  • History & Culture of Zanzibar
  • History & Conservation of the Zanzibar Stone Town

Presentation 2005 Prince Claus Award to Abdul Sheriff in Zanzibar

Abdul Sheriff has played a crucial role in preserving Zanzibar’s cultural heritage. He directed the restoration of a sultan’s ceremonial palace, using local expertise and materials, organising the training of local staff and setting up large-scale collections. The House of Wonders recently opened as the Museum of History and Culture of Zanzibar and the Swahili Coast. A consummate professional with a profound knowledge of, curiosity and dedication to academic standards, he has worked for several decades on raising historical awareness among students and the general public. He is living proof of the importance of self-reliance and the significance of cultural heritage for identity and self-esteem.

In a beautifully organised ceremony in the antique surroundings of the Mbweni Ruins Dutch Ambassador, H. E. Karel van Kesteren presented the 2005 Prince Claus Fund Award to Prof. Abdul Sheriff on 11 March 2006. This is the first time that a Prince Claus Fund Award has been granted to a resident of Zanzibar, and of Tanzania.

Extract from Karel van Kesteren’s speech:

“Not only, professor, are you a leading authority on the history and culture of the Indian Ocean. Not only, Professor, were you Advisor on National Heritage. Not only did you publish books on East Africa’s History, including on Stone Town. Not only are you a professional with profound curiosity and dedicated to academic standards, you were also the Principle Curator of Zanzibar’s Museums. When you ‘inherited’ these museums some 14 years ago in this capacity, they were dusty and neglected buildings. Now, the House of Wonders and the Sultan’s Palace are two thriving museums that contribute enormously in putting Zanzibar on the global cultural map.”



2017 A. Sheriff, V. Teelock, Saada Wahab & S. Peerthum, A Comparative History of Transition from Slavery in Zanzibar and Mauritius, CODESRIA

2014 with Engseng Ho, eds., The Indian Ocean: Oceanic Connections and the Creation of New Societies, London: Hurst.

2010 The Dhow Culture of the Indian Ocean: Cosmopolitanism, Commerce & Islam. London: C. Hurst and NY: Columbia University Press.

2010 Co-author (with Antoni Folkers, et al.), Mtoni, Palace, Sultan & Princess of Zanzibar. Utrecht: ArchiAfrika.

2006 Co-author (with Paul Voogt and Mubiana Luhila), The Zanzibar House of Wonders. Museum: Self-Reliance & Partnership. Amsterdam: KIT.

2005 Co-author (with Jesper Kirknaes), Zanzibar Heritage. Copenhagen: Bega kwa Bega.

1998 Zanzibar Stone Town: An architectural exploration. London: HSP.

1995 Historical Zanzibar: Romance of the Ages, text and captions. London: HSP.

1995 Editor, The History & Conservation of Zanzibar Stone Town. London: James Currey.

1991 Co-editor (with Ed Ferguson), Zanzibar Under Colonial Rule . London: James Currey.

1987 Slaves, Spices & Ivory in Zanzibar. London: James Currey.

Selected Articles

2017   ‘From Captives to Plantation Slaves: the Zanj Rebellion,’ submitted to Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

2017   (forthcoming) ‘Swahili World on the Horizon: an Afterword,’ in Allyson Purpura and Prita Meier (eds.), World on the Horizon: Swahili Arts Across the Indian Ocean.

2017   (forthcoming) ‘The Swahili in the African and Indian Ocean Worlds’, in online Oxford Encyclopaedia of African history.

2017   (forthcoming) ‘Hertagisation of Swahili ‘Stone Towns: A Prologue’, in Inger Lise Syversen, eds. Frictions, Fractures and Cultural Resilience of Swahili Coastal Towns.

2017   (forthcoming) ‘Migration & Creation of New Societies: A story from the Indian Ocean’, in E. A. Alpers & C. Goswami, eds., Situating Gujarat in the Indian Ocean, OUP.

2017   (forthcoming) ‘Zanzibar Old Town’, in Stephanie Wynne-Jones & A. LaViolette, eds. The Swahili World, London: Routledge

2016   ‘Les Navigations et echanges dans l’aire Swahilie’, (‘Navigation & Exchange on the Swahili Coast’) in Catalogue for “Aventuriers des mers”, Paris, 14.11.2016

2016   ‘The Sunken Dhow: A tale of early globalisation in the Indian Ocean’, in J. McAllister, ed., Connecting the Gems of the Indian Ocean, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC, pp. 46-60.

2015 ‘History of Constitution-Making in Tanganyika, Zanzibar, and Tanzania, and why we need a New Constitution’ (pp. 1-20); ‘The Constituent Assembly and the Drafting of the Proposed Constitution’ – First & Second phases, (pp. 89-126) in A. Sheriff, ed. Tanzania Constitution-Making Process, 2011-2014, Zanzibar: Baraza la Katiba, 2015.

2014   Suria: Concubine or Secondary Slave Wife? – the case of Zanzibar in the 19th century, in Gwyn Campbell & Elizabeth Elbourne, eds., Concubinage, Law, and the Family, Ohio University Press: Athens, Ohio.

2014   ‘Globalisation with a difference – an overview’ in A. Sheriff & Engseng Ho, eds., Largest Cultural Continuum Oceanic Movements & Formation Of New Societies In The Indian Ocean, London: Hurst

2013 ‘Reclaiming Africa’s part in World History: The Maritime Dimension  and the Question of “Islamic Slavery”, in Mahmood Mamdani, ed. Getting the Question Right, Kampala: Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), pp. 143-158.

2013 ‘Social Mobility in Indian Ocean Slavery: career of Sultan b Aman – in Robert Harms, and Bernard K. Freamon, and David W. Blight, eds., Slavery in the Indian Ocean World, Yale, pp. 143-59.

2013   ‘The Swahili Coast: Africa’s Window on the Indian Ocean’, in M. Hoffmann-Ruf & A. Al-Salimi, eds., Oman & Overseas, Hildesheim, Zurich & NY: Georg Olms Verlag, pp. 79-92.

2012 “Uundaji wa Katiba Tanzania” and “Chanzo na Sababu za Kero za Kero za Muungano.” In Katiba Tuitakayo, Baraza la Katiba, Zanzibar.

2012 “Globalisation with a difference – an overview.” In Indian Ocean: The largest cultural continuum, edited by A. Sheriff and Engseng Ho. London: C. Hurst & Columbia University Press.

2010 “The life and times of Sultan Seyyid Said b. Sultan (1806-56).” In Mtoni, Palace, Sultan & Princess of Zanzibar, edited by Antoni Folkers. Amsterdam.

2009 “The Gulf and the Swahili Coast: A History of Acculturation over the Longue Durée.” In The Persian Gulf in History, edited by Lawrence G. Potter, 173-188. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

2008 “The Dhow Culture of the western Indian Ocean.” In Journeys and Dwellings – Indian Ocean themes in South Asia, edited by H. Basu. Hyderabad: Orient Longman.

2008 “Swahili Culture and Art between Africa and the Indian Ocean.” In Art in Eastern Africa, edited by Marion Arnold, 65-84. Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota.

2008 “The Origins of the ‘Zanzibari’ Diaspora in Durban, South Africa.” In TADIA: The African Diaspora in Asia, edited by Kiran Kamal Prasad and Jean-Pierre Angenot, 547-578. Bangalore: Jana Jagrati Prakashana.

2006 “Between Two Worlds: The littoral peoples of the Indian Ocean.” In The Global World of the Swahili, edited by Roman Loimeier and Rudiger Seesemann, 15-30. Berlin: LIT.

2005 “Slave Trade and Slave Routes of the East African Coast.” In Slave Routes and Oral Tradition in Southeastern Africa, edietd by E. A. Alpers and B. Zimba. Maputo: Filsom Entertainment.

2005 “The twilight of slavery in the Persian Gulf.” In ZIFF Journal 2: Monsoons & Migrations, edited by A. Sheriff.

2005 “The Slave Trade and its Fallout in the Persian Gulf.” In Abolition and its Aftermath in Indian Ocean Africa and Asia, edited by G. Campbell, 103-119. London and New York: Routledge.

2004 “Sur: The World of a Dhow Port.” Journal of Oman Studies 13: 99-112.

2004 “People on the Move.” In ZIFF Journal 1: Dhow Culture Dialogues, edited by A. Sheriff, 27-40.

2003 “Encapsular la historia. La experiencia de los museos de Zanzibar.” Entrepasados: Revista de Historia 24/25: 253-262.

2002 “Navigational Methods in the Indian Ocean.” In Ships and the Development of Maritime Technology in the Indian Ocean, edited by D. Parkin and R. Barnes, 209-226. London: Routledge Curzon.

2002 “Zanzibar: citta Swahili o coloniale?” Storia Urbana 98/99: 119-135.

2001/2002 “The spatial dichotomy of Swahili towns: the case of Zanzibar in the nineteenth century.” Azania XXXVI/XXXVII: 63-81.

2001 “Race and class in the politics of Zanzibar.” Afrika Spektrum 36.3: 301-318.

2001 “Capitalist Hegemony Reconsidered.” In African Networks, Exchange and Spatial Dynamics, edited by L. Marfaing and B. Reinwald, 147-154. Hamburg: Lit.

2001 “The Slave Trade and Slavery in the Western Indian Ocean: Significant Contrasts.” In Facing up to the Past: Perspectives on the Commemoration of Slavery from Africa, the Americas and Europe, edited by G. Oostindie, 43-47. Kingston: Prince Claus Fund Library.

2001 “Afro-Arab Interaction in the Indian Ocean.” Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society, Cape Town, Occasional Paper 13.

2001 “The Records of the Wakf Commission as a Source of Social and Religious History of Zanzibar.” In Islam in East Africa, edited by Biancamaria Scarcia Amerotti, 27-45. Rome: Herder.

2001 “The Historicity of the Shirazi Tradition along the East African Coast.” In Historical Roles of Iranians (Shirazis) in the East African Coast, Cultural Council of the Embassy of I. R. Iran, 21-41. Nairobi: Cultural Council.

1999 “Zanzibar & la cote Swahili.” In Zanzibar & la cote Sultane, edited by Marie-Paule Pelle, 28-54. Paris: Le Bon Marche Rive Gauche.

1998 “Zanzibar: Encapsulating history – The Palace Museum & the House of Wonders.” In Museums & History in W. Africa, edited by C. D. Ardouin and E. Arinze, 155-163. London: James Currey.

1998 “Le Peuplement et l’islamisation” and “Le vielle ville de pierre un heritage en transition.” In Zanzibar Aujourdhui, edited by C. Le Cour Grandmaison, 21-34 and 189-202. Paris: Karthala.

1994 “The Union and the struggle for democracy in Zanzibar.” In Liberalisation & Politics: The 1990 Election in Tanzania, edited by R. S. Mukandala and H. Othman, 146-174. Dar es Salaam: University Press.

1992 “Mosques, Merchants and Landowners in Zanzibar Old Stone Town.” Azania 27: 1-20.

1990 Co-author (with C. Tominaga), “The Ambiguity of Shirazi Ethnicity in the History and Politics of Zanzibar.” Christianity & Culture 24: 1-37.

1989 “Localisation and social composition of the East African Slave Trade, 1858-1873.” In The Economics of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century, edited by W. G. Clarence-Smith, 131-145. London: Cass.

1986 “Ivory and commercial expansion in East Africa in the 19th century.” In Figuring African Trade, edited by G. Liesegang, H. Pasch and A. Jones, 415-450. Berlin: Reimaer.

1985 “The slave mode of production along the East African coast, 1810-1873.” In Slaves & Slavery in Muslim Africa, edited by J. R. Willis, 161-181. London: Frank Cass.

1985 Co-author (with L. Larson), “East Africa in the nineteenth century.” In Historical Atlas of Africa, by J. F. Ajayi and M. Crowder. Harlow: Longman, Essex.

1985 “Social formations in pre-colonial Kenya.” In Kenya in the Nineteenth Century (Hadith, 8), edite by B. A. Ogot, 1-32. Nairobi: Bookwise.

1981 “East African Coast and its role in maritime trade.” In UNESCO General History of Africa vol. II, edited by G. Mokhtar, 551-567. London: Heinemann.

1980 “Tanzanian Societies at the time of the Partition.” In Tanzania Under Colonial Rule, edited by M. H. Y. Kaniki, 11-50. London: Longman.

1975 “The dynamics of change in pre-colonial Africa.” African Economic History I/2: 7-13.

1975 “Trade & Underdevelopment: The role of international trade in the economic history of the East African coast before the 16th century.” in Hadith 5, edited by B. A. Ogot, 1-23. Nairobi: EAPH.

1971 Co-author (with B. Datoo), “Patterns of Ports and Trade Routes in different periods.” In Tanzania in Maps, edited by L. Berry. London.

1971 Indians in East Africa: a review article.” Tanzania Notes & Records 72.

Contact Information

c/o Zanlink
P.O. Box 4204
Zanzibar, Tanzania
tel: 255-777 415 335
asheriff [at] zitec.org