SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Ettore Morelli

BA History (Milan) MA History (Pisa) Diploma History (SNS Pisa)
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Publications


Ettore Morelli
Ettore Morelli
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Thesis title:
The Wind that Dries Up the Land. War, Power, and Slavery on the Southern African Highveld, c.1500-c.1800
Year of Study:
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PhD Research

The thesis analyses the political culture and the political history of the precolonial Highveld up to c.1800. The main aim of the research is to study the multi-faceted concept of political power and to challenge current representations of local rulers as benign figures that either protected and cared for the wealth and welfare of their communities, or did not possess the strong political institutions necessary to oppress them. The thesis integrates this picture, rather than replacing it, with findings on war culture, violence, and exploitation as essential parts of the political culture of the Highveld. The analysis includes metaphors and symbols of power, and processes of centralisation and scattering, seen as defining historical phenomena that shaped the way some communities rose to power and wealth and others were marginalised and obliterated. The research follows the partially untold stories of some of the polities of the pre-1800 Highveld: the Barolong, the Lihoja, the Batlokoa, and the Bakoena Bamonaheng. Finally, the analysis of warfare and war culture allows for a new understanding of captivity as the mechanism that created a underclass of poor individuals. Employed as servants, perpetually dishonoured, with a diminished kin or kinless, and whose status was hereditary, such underclass constituted a local form of precolonial slavery, as the thesis ultimately argues.

Fieldwork with archival research was led in South Africa and Lesotho in January-May 2016.


  • Have You Ever Captured Anything For Your Parents?' War Captivity and Slavery on the Precolonial Southern African Highveld, c.1800-71, The Journal of African History, 60, 1, 2019 (forthcoming).


  • "Disputed Pasts, Fractured Presents and the Work of History", Southern African Historical Society (SAHS) Conference, Johannesburg June 2017.
  • Incontro degli Studi d'Area Italiani, Pavia (Ita), October 2016.
  • "Ebullient Africa: Conflict, Modernity, Religion", Associazione per gli Studi Africani in Italia (ASAI) Conference, Catania (Ita), September 2016.
  • "Contending Religions Identities and Space. Living together in contemporary Africa and Europe", Interdisciplinary Centre for African Studies Conference, Macerata (Ita), November 2015.


  • ASAI (Associazione per gli Studi Africani in Italia)
  • ASAUK (African Studies Association United Kingdom)
  • Editorial Assistant, Africa: Rivista semestrale di studi e ricerche



  • Southern African History
  • Precolonial African History
  • Oral Traditions
  • Warfare
  • History and Theory of Slavery
  • Trade Networks
  • Ethnography and Travel Accounts
  • Missionary History 
  • Cultural Contact
  • Comparative Imperial History
  • World History


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