If Keri Lambert could travel back in time, she would want to meet Kwame Nkrumah, the first Prime Minister and President of Ghana. A scholar of African history, Lambert is currently working to publish her first book, “Elastic Allegiances: Producing Rubber and Belonging in Ghana, 1880-2017.” As a three-season varsity track & field athlete in college, Lambert also serves as Head Coach for Girls Cross Country and Director for the Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field program. Lambert is an Instructor in History and Social Sciences and a house counselor in Draper Cottage.
I’ve been a historian of Africa since 2009, [which was] my first year of undergrad. [There], I fell in love with history and I began to like taking history classes for the first time in my life. I had never had the opportunity to take African history before, so that seemed like a new horizon for me to explore and learn from. I was also going to college in my hometown and wanting to see beyond the world I already knew really, really well, was important to me. From there, the reasons exploded and I found so many reasons to want to keep studying in the field.
When I was an undergraduate, I became really interested in the history of commodities. With that in mind, I decided in my senior year of college to apply for a Watson Fellowship, which basically kicks you out of the country, cuts [you] a check, and [lets you] pursue a project of your own design. My project was to experience firsthand the work that went into producing global commodities, like rubber, coffee, cotton, and palm oil, among others. So I spent four months in Ghana working on smallholder rubber plantations and there, I just realized that there were so many questions that I wanted to know about the history of that industry. To answer those questions, I pursued my PhD on that topic and I focused on that for the next many years.
The research itself was done over many months and many trips. I have traveled to the [United Kingdom] and I did a lot of research in Washington DC as well because the history that I had to tell and explore is transnational history. I loved writing my dissertation and getting to review my notes from all of the oral histories that I had conducted with people and search through all of the archival materials that I had photographed. My favorite place to visit was probably Ghana because of the connections I made with some close friends there that I cherish to this day.
As I became interested in history from a scholarly angle, I was also very interested in pursuing a teaching career. I was a little bit torn when thinking about what career path to take, because on one hand, I really wanted to do research, but I also really loved the classroom experience and I knew that at the heart of my career, I wanted to be working firsthand with students, with people who are excited to learn and to grow. I always felt like this buzz was working with young people working with students, either in summer programs or in tutoring positions… I decided to apply to this job here at Andover and finally, I feel like I’ve found something that really makes me passionate and makes me tick.
I think it comes into play in the classes I have taught at all levels. The skills of being a historian, knowing how to ask a good and compelling question about the past, [being] empathetic with people that lived either decades or centuries or millennia ago are invaluable. Then [in terms of my] content and knowledge, I have been able to contribute to incorporating the more anti-racist curriculum into the History 100 curriculum by developing new units on African history. Within History 300, I tend to draw on my background as a social historian to incorporate materials that let students study history from the ground up. Then when I’m teaching my bread and butter elective, [History 516 Storied Environments: African Environmental History Since 1800], I get to be a scholar and get to work with really curious, super bright, young minds. I think that’s where I feel like my training as a historian is most applicable.
I loved coaching and I really liked that student-facing role. I think when I was an athlete, I was pleasantly ignorant and intentionally, so I just wanted to run, to be given a workout, and then run fast. I wanted to be allowed to be competitive and have fun doing the sport. So when I became a coach, I started to take much more interest in the technical side and I realized that I actually do love that side as well. But in so many ways, the passion for the sport that I had as an athlete is translating directly to being a coach. I’m able to better empathize with athletes when they’re injured because I know what that feels like. I’m better able to celebrate a success because I know what that feels like and how it’s one of the best feelings in the world to get a new PR [personal record].
It’s hard for me to say one particular person. In the Andover space, there are faculty members, especially people who have either been here for a lot longer or who have taught history for a lot longer than I have, that I really admire. I could give you their names, but I would feel a little embarrassed. Outside of that, there are some professional athletes that I look up to, because of their stories, their resilience, and their commitment to their goals, which is always astonishing.
One would be to stay in the moment and not get ahead of yourself, something that my high school cross country coach was always encouraging us to do. That’s really important, whether you’re racing a 5k [or] a high school student when you’re struggling in a class. Then, valuing relationships and friendships and making sure that’s an integral part of every day [is also really important.] Especially in the place where the pace gets fast as it does here, it is so important to make time for the people who are important in your life because they’re the ones who will make the highs worth it and carry you through your lows.
I guess [I’ve] branched out. I used to be very in my shell a lot, and I feel like over [Covid-19], I really had to reach out to do the things I wanted and make the most out of that experience. It’s really changed me as a person because now I’m really sociable and very able to meet new people, which I definitely was not able to do my Junior year.
I have so many names going through my mind. I think for the sake of my familiarity with how a man’s thoughts changed over time, I’d want to talk to Kwame Nkrumah, who was the first Prime Minister and President of Ghana, who’s a figure that’s really important in my field and in my research, and I’d want to talk to him about why he switched so dramatically his development policies in the six years immediately following [Ghanaian] independence.