Robert M Rouphail

 Robert Rouphail

Contact Information

309 Gregory Hall
810 S. Wright Street
M/C 466
Urbana, IL 61801
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Research Interests

  • East Africa and the Indian Ocean World, Environmental History, History of Science, Global History, Empire, Race, Gender

Research Description

I work primarily on the history of East Africa and the Indian Ocean World in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Drawing upon French, English, and Mauritian Creole-language sources ranging from meteorological studies, oral histories, newspapers, and songs, my dissertation, “Essentially Cyclonic:" Race, Gender, and Disaster in Modern Mauritius, 1890s-1970s, centers tropical cyclones as constitutive and proportional forces of historical change in modern Mauritius. It shows that whether as acute moments of catastrophe or as specters of future destruction, tropical cyclones effectuated historical convergences; they brought together distinct threads of political, social, and cultural debate as everyday Mauritians and their colonial and post-colonial governments reckoned with strategies of survival and reconstruction. This project unites major historiographical points of debate and interest posed by “new imperial” and environmental historians with those in East Africa and the western Indian Ocean. It asks how deep histories of mobility,cosmopolitanism, imperial citizenship, “Greater India,” and Pan-Africanism intersect with increasingly interventionist colonial and post-colonial states that sought not only to produce legible and stable human subjects, but to also integrate those subjects into projects aimed at mitigating risks posed by the natural world. It also emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to the environmental history of the Indian Ocean by integrating Africanist historiographical debates with a body of sociological literature on natural disaster, ecological resilience, and the social effects of climate change.

Beyond this project, I am also interested in global histories of mobility and technology, as well as Afro-Asian politics, decolonization, and the making of the "Third World."


  • MA in African History: North Carolina State University, 2013
  • BA in History: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2008

Distinctions / Awards

  • Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Bio-Humanities, 2017-2018
  • Laurence Larson Scholarship, 2018
  • UIUC Graduate College Fellow, 2013-2015
  • Yale University Council on African Studies FLAS for Swahili, 2014, (Kenya and Tanzania)


  • 20th Century Global History (Instructor of Record--University of Illinois)
  • Modern Middle East (TA--North Carolina State)
  • East Asian Civilizations (TA--University of Illinois)

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Rouphail, Robert M Cyclonic Ecology: Sugar, Cyclone Science, and the Limits of Empire in Mauritius and the Indian Ocean World, 1870s-1930s Isis 110 1 2019, p. 1-20.

Book Contributions

Rouphail, Robert M Natural Worlds A Cultural History of Western Empires in the Modern Age Natural Worlds London Bloomsbury 2019, p. 69-92.


Rouphail, Robert M Global Environmental History: An Introductory Reader compiled by John McNeill, compiled by Alan Roe. Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities 3 Winter/Spring/Fall Compiled by John McNeill, Compiled by Alan Roe, 2016, p. 427-434.

Website Articles