Karin Shapiro

Karin Shapiro

Associate Professor of the Practice in the Department of African and African American Studies

External Address: 
243D Friedl Building, Box 90252, Durham, NC 27708
Internal Office Address: 
Box 90252, Durham, NC 27708
(919) 684-2961


I study American social and southern history, as well as South African history. My interest in the political economy of race and coerced labor in both societies led to me to examine a dramatic Gilded Age labor rebellion in the Tennessee coalfields against the use of convict workers, the subject of my first book, A New South Rebellion: The Battle against Convict Labor in the Tennessee Coalfields, 1871-1896 (UNC Press, 1998). I also co-edited, along with scholars from the University of the Witwatersrand’s History Workshop and the Radical History Review, History from South Africa: Alternative Visions and Practices (Temple University Press, 1991).  This volume, though now dated, brought both more nuanced radical interpretations of South African history and provided an exposure of History Workshop historians to a wide range of American historians who sought deeper historical understandings of that country’s democratic revolution. 

Committed to reaching audiences beyond a scholarly community, I have produced a film on the epidemiologist Sherman James and the origins of his John Henryism Hypothesis (2018) and co-produced two others – one on South Africans in North Carolina (2005) and one on the international Fulbright program (2011) – and have curated exhibits on Nelson Mandela (2008) and Jewish history and life in Durham, North Carolina (2013).  By and large, these efforts have drawn on my abiding interests in the American South and South Africa.

I am now engaged in three distinct projects. The first consists of a biography of Archbishop Walter Khotso Makhulu, archbishop of Central Africa between 1980 and 2000.  A graduate of the same seminary and a direct contemporary of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu who served as Archbishop of Cape Town, Makhulu played a key role in the anti-apartheid movement.  For years, he secretly funneled money from the Norwegian government and Norwegian state church to a wide variety of anti-apartheid activists inside of South Africa.  In addition, he oversaw the demographic transformation of the African bishopric and facilitated the incorporation of African rituals into the Anglican Church in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Archbishop Makhulu was also a critical voice in key debates in the Anglican Church, namely the ordination of women and gay rights.

Second, I am exploring South Africa’s apartheid-era emigration policy and its relationship to notions of citizenship and state formation, as well as the ways in which passports and other kinds of travel documents formed part of the oppressive apparatus of the successive National Party governments.

Third, I am researching the transnational careers of seven influential South African medics who came to North Carolina in the 1950s and ‘60s to work at Duke and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Primarily epidemiologists and family and community medicine doctors, this cohort adopted a "social medicine" approach. These pioneering doctors generally left South Africa when the National Party introduced apartheid in the late 1940s/1950s. Several ended up in North Carolina, where they had long and illustrious careers. I am interested in the ways in which these medics continued to explore the impact of social environment on health through epidemiological studies of North Carolina communities, as well as their efforts to establish health care facilities that harkened to those they had created in South Africa.

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., Yale University 1991

  • M.Phil., Yale University 1986

  • M.A., Yale University 1983

  • B.A. (hons), University of Witwatersrand (South Africa) 1981

  • A.B., University of Witwatersrand (South Africa) 1980

Selected Grants

Fulbright Revisited- A Documentary awarded by Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2009 to 2011

Social Medicine in South Africa and Abroad: The North Carolina Connection awarded by Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2008 to 2009

No Exit? The Politics of South African Emigration Restrictions in Early Apartheid South Africa awarded by Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation (Principal Investigator). 2006 to 2008

Double Vision: A Journey into the South African Diaspora in North Carolina awarded by NC Humanities Council (Principal Investigator). 2005

Brown, Josh, et al. History from South Africa: Alternative Visions and Practices. Temple University Press, 1991.

Shapiro, K. “Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South by Talitha L. Leflouria.” The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press (CUP): HSS Journals - No Cambridge Open, June 2016.

Shapiro, K. “Doing Time in the Depression: Everyday Life in Texas and California Prisons by Ethan Blue.” Labor: Studies in the Working Class History of the Americas, vol. 13, no. 1, Jan. 2016.

Shapiro, K. “Steel Drivin’ Man - John Henry - The Untold Story of an American Legend by Scott Reynolds Nelson.” Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas, vol. 4, 2007, pp. 113–15.

Shapiro, K. “Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama, 1865-1900 by Mary Ellen Curtin.” Journal of American History, vol. 89, 2002, pp. 229–30.

Macmillan, H., and F. Shapiro. “Zion in Africa: The Jews of Zambia.” Journal of Southern African Studies, vol. 27, no. 4, 2001, pp. 873–75.

Shapiro, K. “Making race and nation: A comparison of South Africa, the United States and Brazil.” Journal of American Ethnic History, vol. 19, no. 2, 2000, pp. 129–30.

Shapiro, K. “An African American in South Africa: The Travel Notes of Ralph Bunche by RR Edgar.” South African Historical Journal, vol. 29, 1993, pp. 297–300.

Shapiro, K. “South Africa’s City of Diamonds: Mine Workers, and Monopoly Capitalism in Kimberley, 1867-1895 by William Worger.” Canadian Journal of African Studies, vol. 23, 1989, pp. 335–36.


Shapiro, K. “William Riley: Southern Black Miners and Industrial Unionism in the Late 19th Century.” The Human Tradition in American Labor History, edited by Eric Arnesen, Scholarly Resources, 2004.

Shapiro, Karin. “Growing Up with the Country: Family, Race, and Nation after the Civil War.” Journal of Southern History, vol. 85, no. 1, Feb. 2019, pp. 196–97.

Bonner, Philip, and Karin Shapiro. “"Company Town, Company Estate: Pilgrim's Rest, 1910-1932.” Journal of Southern African Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, June 1993, pp. 171–200.

Shapiro, K. A. “Doctors or medical aids--the debate over the training of black medical personnel for the rural black population in South Africa in the 1920s and 1930s.Journal of Southern African Studies, vol. 13, no. 2, Jan. 1987, pp. 234–55. Epmc, doi:10.1080/03057078708708143. Full Text

Shapiro, K. “No Exit? Emigration Policy and the Consolidation of Apartheid.” Journal of Southern African Studies, Taylor & Francis (Routledge): SSH Titles.

Bozzoli, B., et al. “Radical History Review.” Radical History Review, edited by K. Shapiro et al., vol. 46, no. 7, Duke University Press, 1990.

Shapiro, K. A. “Durham’s Jewish Community in Transition.” Triangle Downtowner Magazine, vol. 9, 2013.

Shapiro, K., and D. Letwin. “David Montgomery, 1927 - 2011.” Radical History Review, vol. 2012, no. 113, Duke University Press, 1 Apr. 2012, pp. 225–28. Crossref, doi:10.1215/01636545-1591680. Full Text

Shapiro, K. A., and John Allen. Interview with Archbishop Walter Khotso Makhulu. 2010.

Shapiro, K. A., et al. Interview with Bishop Peter Storey. 2008.

Beth El Synagogue: the first 125 years," Durham, NC . Curator, Writer. (2013)


The exhibition explored Durham's Jewish History over the past 125 years within the context of industrialization, suburbanization, and race relations. Exhibited at: Durham County Library; Freeman Center for Jewish Life, Duke University; Beth El Synagogue, Durham; Jewish Community Center, Durham.

Nelson Mandela: A Light so Powerful. Curator, Writer. (2008)


Exhibit at the American Tobacco Campus (2008) and the Durham Public Library (2007)