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Steve Davis

Research Interests:
South African history; microhistory; public history
African History
Digital Humanities
Artificial Intelligence
Machine Learning
Human Rights
data visualization
Virtual and Augmented Reality
new military history

B.A., Hamilton College (2000)
M.A., PhD., University of Florida (2006, 2010)


Stephen R Davis is the co-Principal Investigator of the Bitter Aloe Project, an artificial intelligence (AI) research group that applies advanced machine learning models to extract data from materials produced by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  The Bitter Aloe Project is the first multidisciplinary research project to use machine learning to interrogate human rights data from South Africa.  Recently this project has forked to include the merging of data visualization with immersive technologies such as virtual reality.  This work received funding from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies (UK), the Office of the Vice President for Research (UK), and the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences (UK).

He is also currently co-authoring a manuscript project with William Mattingly the co-Principal Investigator of the Bitter Aloe Project.  This manuscript is a prosopography of victims and perpetrators, drawn in part from datasets and web-based tools developed by the Bitter Aloe Project.  This book will also be a tutorial on text-based machine learning methods geared toward novice users in the humanities.  

He continues his research on the 1981 Matola Raid, a cross-border raid conducted by the South African Defense Force on ANC residences located outside Maputo, Mozambique.  At present he is reassembling the circumstances that led to the raid with an eye toward writing an operational history of the raid itself.  This project will be an intervention into the literature on insurgency and counter-insurgency during the 'long decade' of the 1980s in South Africa and the significance of southern Africa in determining the end of the Cold War.  This project will draw on newly conducted interviews with survivors and participants as well as previously inaccessible archival material.

In February 2018, Indiana University Press published The ANC's War against Apartheid: Umkhonto we Sizwe and the Liberation of South AfricaThis history of everyday life of rank-and-file soldiers in a liberation army borrows from microhistory and recent work on public history in South Africa.  It is part of a broader critique of official histories of the armed struggle written after the transition to democracy.   

In 2007-2008, received a Fulbright (IIE) dissertation grant to conduct field research on the armed struggle against apartheid in South Africa. During this trip he collected several dozen oral interviews with ex-combatants, former activists, and current ANC members.

In addition to research, he spent four years learning Xhosa at the University of Florida and completed intensive language study in Zulu at the University of KwaZulu-Natal under the auspices of the Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad administered by Yale University (2004).

Selected Publications:
The ANC's War Against Apartheid; Umkhonto we Sizwe and the Liberation of South Africa, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018
“Training and Deployment at Novo Catengue and Jack Simons’ Diaries,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 40 (2014) 1325-1342.
“Struggle History and Self-Help; The Parallel Lives of Nelson Mandela in Conventional and Figurative Biography,” African Studies, 73 (2014) 169-191.
“The African National Congress, its Radio, its Allies and Exile,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 35 (2009) 349-373.