Yaari Felber-Seligman


Assistant Professor

Main Affiliation


Additional Departments/Affiliated Programs

Black Studies Program

Areas of Expertise/Research

  • Comparative World
  • Early Africa
  • LGBTQ+
  • gender and sexuality
  • non-documentary sources
  • popular culture







347-670-3343 (work cell)

Yaari Felber Seligman

Yaari Felber-Seligman


Professor Felber-Seligman (they/them/theirs) is a cultural historian whose research specializes broadly in questions of community and identity amidst changing dynamics of global trade. They focus on African, world, and gender diverse history from before the nineteenth century as well as on the legacies that such earlier history exerted in the recent present. Using interdisciplinary research, Felber-Seligman's projects engage comparative histories of popular culture, trade, cross-cultural encounter, and gender. Their teaching includes these themes and the topics of African history (from ancient to recent), African encounters with others, comparative world history, gender and sexuality, LGBTQ+ history, and historical methodologies, especially the use of various non-documentary sources. 

Their first book titled, Fashioning Inland Communities: Trade and Popular Culture in Central East Africa, is forthcoming with the University of Wisconsin Press. It traces the experiences of communities located in parts of present day Tanzania, Mozambique, and Malawi from the mid-first millennium CE into the early twentieth century. Collectively called Ruvuma after the region’s largest river, for most of their history they lived in small, decentralized villages, yet they were far from isolated when it came to engaging wider trading worlds. This book argues that shared interests in trade and material culture created enduring forms of popular fashions, which fostered relative autonomy for Ruvuma inhabitants, local elites and commoners alike. This history re-directs our attention to how affective tastes, family interests, and local creativity all combined to establish long-lasting patterns of connection among historic rural communities. Fashioning Inland Communities intervenes in long-standing interdisciplinary debates on the interplay of socio-political scale, material culture, and global economy. It joins scholarship that challenges assumptions that Africans sought out long-distance trade primarily for prestige goods to apply to socio-political or economic hierarchies. In contrast, Ruvuma demonstrated long-lasting abilities to make their relative peripheral location a site for creative engagement. Rather than adopt coastal, global, or other Africans’ fashions, Ruvuma emphasized processes of fashioning that – literally and conceptually – transformed imported materials into regionally significant forms. The versatility of such fashions limited the control any particular individual could assert. Some fashions became valued for their abilities to express friendship and personal taste, not necessarily wealth or power. Starting in the late first millennium, popular fashions reinforced heterarchy, namely local forms of authority held by family leaders and senior women. While trade between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries expanded Ruvuma ties with interior Africans and early Europeans, it did not result in destabilizing local conditions. Even as Ruvuma navigated the slave trade and then European colonialism, some still found resistance through popular culture as they built transregional connections between and beyond boundaries created by new forms of ethnicity and colonial states. 

Professor Felber-Seligman received their Ph.D from Northwestern University in 2014. A Fulbright Hays Doctoral Dissertation Award (2010-2011) supported their doctoral research in Tanzania. Before joining CCNY, they were a Mellon Sawyer Postdoctoral Fellow with the World Studies Interdisciplinary Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2015-2016 and a visiting assistant professor of African History at Allegheny College in 2014-2015. Subsequent research and book revision received support from an NEH Award for Faculty, a CCNY Book Completion Grant, two awards from the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, and from participation in the CUNY Mellon Faculty Diversity Career Enhancement Initiative Program and in the CUNY Faculty Fellowship Publication Program. Felber-Seligman has published articles in History in Africa, the International Journal of African Historical Studies, and African Arts.

            For their future projects, Felber-Seligman plans to explore experiences of gender diverse individuals and how they formed communities through a series of historical case studies that include a future book monograph as well as collaborative public-facing projects that will place in dialogue histories of gender diversity in early Africa with long-term histories of gender diversity in the Atlantic world. 

Felber-Seligman serves as a History department delegate to CCNY’s Faculty Senate and as one of CCNY’s representatives on the CUNY LGBTQIA+ Faculty and Staff Council. As of spring 2024, they are one of the incoming co-chairs of the Committee on LGBT History where they look forward to helping expand the organization’s engagement with non-western and public history.


B.A. University of Pennsylvania

M.A., Ph.D. Northwestern University

Research Interests

Cultural History, Early African History, Material Culture and Fashion, African-European Encounters, Comparative Trade, World History, Gender and Queer History, LGBTQ+ History, Public History, Non-Documentary Research Methodologies

Courses Taught


Ancient Africa (undergraduate survey)

Africa before 1500 (undergraduate survey)

Africa and the Modern World: 1500s-present (a PATHWAYS course; undergraduate survey)

History without Documents (history methodology course, upper level, West Africa focus)

History of South Africa (upper level undergraduate)

LGBTQ World History (upper level undergraduate)

Historian’s Craft (history methodology course, my section has featured East African history)

WCIV 10100: Early History to 1500 CE



History of South Africa

New Directions in World History

Topics in Public History: Africans, Public History, Museums, and (Mis-)Representation



Scholarly Publications

Fashioning Inland Communities: Trade and Popular Culture in Central East Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming in 2025.

“Painting in Turbulent Times: House Wall Art, Culture, and Commentary in Colonial East Africa.” African Arts 53, no. 2 (Summer 2020): 54-65.

[Articles below were published under my former legal name]

“Lip Ornaments and the Domestication of Trade Goods: Fashion in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Central East Africa.” History in Africa 42 (June 2015): 357-373.

“Wealth Not by Any Other Name: Inland African Material Aesthetics in Expanding Commercial Times, c.16th-20th Centuries.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 48, no. 3 (2015): 449-469.

with Charlotte Walker-Said. “Wealth in Pluralities: Intersections of Money, Gender, and Multiple Values across African Societies.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 48, no. 3 (2015): 387-392.

Selected Public and Teaching-Focused Publications

“African Traditions of Sexualities.” In Merry Wiesner-Hanks and Mathew Kuefler, eds. The Cambridge World History of Sexualities, vol. II, Ch. 8., 158-180. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming c. August 2024.

“Hatshepsut (c.1507-1458 BCE).” In Candice Goucher, ed. Women Who Changed the World: Their Lives, Challenges, and Accomplishments through History, 4 vols., 462-469. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2022.

“Petros, Walatta (1592-1642).” In Candice Goucher, ed. Women Who Changed the World: Their Lives, Challenges, and Accomplishments through History, 4 vols., 944-952. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2022.

“Rivera, Sylvia (1951-2002).” In Candice Goucher, ed. Women Who Changed the World: Their Lives, Challenges, and Accomplishments through History, 4 vols., 988-995. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2022.

“We’wha (c. 1849-1896)” In Candice Goucher, ed., Women Who Changed the World: Their Lives, Challenges, and Accomplishments through History, 4 vols., 1201-1208. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2022.

[Articles below were published under my former legal name]

“New Biographies for Teaching African History.” World History Connected, Forum: New Biographies in World History, 14, no. 1 (February 2017), https://worldhistoryconnected.press.uillinois.edu/14.1/forum_seligman.html.

Co-authored with Laura J. Mitchell. “Introduction, New Biographies in World History: Moving Beyond the ‘Usual Suspects.’” World History Connected, Forum: New Biographies in World History, 14, no. 1 (February 2017), https://worldhistoryconnected.press.uillinois.edu/14.1/forum_mitchell_introduction.html.