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John Aerni-Flessner

Associate Professor of African History, Michigan State University

I am a historian of southern Africa, focusing primarily on Lesotho and South Africa. My first book, Dreams for Lesotho: Independence, Foreign Assistance, and Development, explained how Basotho came to see the concepts of development and independence as intertwined. This helped them make development 'their own' even when it came with many strings attached, and quite often failed to achieve its stated aim of poverty reduction. I am currently working with a team at the University of the Free State to document, through oral histories, the experiences of Basotho on both sides of the Lesotho/South Africa border. I also conduct research with my American students on local histories in Lansing, Michigan, including the childhood of Malcolm X in Lansing and the history of redlining and residential segregation in the city and region.


  • 2019–present
    Research fellow, University of the Free State
  • 2019–present
    Associate professor, Michigan State University
  • 2014–2019
    Assistant professor, Michigan State University
  • 2011–2014
    Assistant Professor, SUNY Cortland


  • 2011 
    Washington University in St. Louis, PhD/African History
  • 2001 
    Grinnell College, BA History/Secondary Education


  • 2021
    Digitally Documenting Urban Renewal in Lansing, 1930s-1960s” , Michigan Historical Review
  • 2021
    Bargaining with Land: Borders, Bantustans, and Sovereignty in 1970s and 1980s Southern Africa, Journal of Southern African Studies
  • 2018
    Dreams for Lesotho: Independence, Foreign Assistance, and Development, University of Notre Dame Press
  • 2018
    2006, Lesotho: On the Wrong Side of Development, Introduction, Southern African Muckraking
  • 2018
    Passports, Citizenship, Residency, and Asylum: The Meanings of Decolonisation in Lesotho, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History
  • 2017
    Self-Help Development Projects and Conceptions of Independence in Lesotho, 1950s-1970s, International Journal of African Historical Studies
  • 2017
    Introduction: Localizing the History of Development, International Journal of African Historical Studies
  • 2015
    Homemakers, Communists and Refugees: Smuggling Anti-Apartheid Refugees in Rural Lesotho in the 1960s and 1970s, Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies
  • 2015
    The Specter of Communism and Local Politics in Lesotho, 1952-1970 , Peripheries of the Cold War
  • 2014
    Development, Politics, and Public Perceptions of Independence in Lesotho, 1960-1975, Journal of African History

Grants and Contracts

  • 2021
    Fulbright Scholar Award
    Bloemfontein, South Africa
    Funding Source:
    Fulbright Commission