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Lessons in Diversity

Visiting Fulbright professor elicits deeper understanding of human nature — and the rest is history

December 15, 2021

Eliud Biegon, PhD, second from the right, visiting the Dia de Los Muertos memorial at the Charles Willard Coe Memorial Library on the Chalon Campus. With him, from left to right, are Coe library staffers Lorena Alvarado, Michelle Luevano and J. Thomas McCarthy Library staff member Claudia Alvarado from the Doheny Campus.
Eliud Biegon, PhD, second from the right, visiting the Dia de Los Muertos memorial at the Charles Willard Coe Memorial Library on the Chalon Campus. With him, from left to right, are Coe library staffers Lorena Alvarado, Michelle Luevano and J. Thomas McCarthy Library staff member Claudia Alvarado from the Doheny Campus.

Eliud Biegon, PhD, traces his love of history back to time spent with his grandparents in Nairobi, Kenya.

“In my rural village, I would have long conversations with my grandfather about the past, and I found them fascinating,” he recalls. “I also read the daily newspaper to my illiterate grandmother. Thinking back, these two sparked my interest in the history of communities and my country.” 

Eliud Biegon, PhD, just after completing the LA 5K BIG5 race at Dodger Stadium in a time of 27 minutes, 12 seconds.
Eliud Biegon, PhD, just after completing the LA 5K BIG5 race at Dodger Stadium in a time of 27 minutes, 12 seconds.

One particular topic of conversation hit close to home and shaped Biegon’s future career as an historian: During the course of his chats with his grandfather, he learned of a violent conflict between two ethnic groups in his own village during Kenya’s transition to independence. As a result, his family’s home was raided and burned and his grandparents forced to flee.

Dissatisfied with the explanations of violence between these once-friendly communities, Biegon began studying history in earnest. His education culminated in a PhD in history from Selwyn College in Cambridge, UK. Biegon’s PhD thesis focused on the history of the Terik, one of the minority ethnic groups involved in the conflict.

In 2019, Biegon, who is a history professor at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, received a Fulbright Scholar award to teach African history at the Mount. After a yearlong delay due to COVID-19, he arrived in August 2021 and is currently teaching an undergraduate course on the history of East Africa.

“Historians are interested in activities of human beings and how they behave in contexts that are different from their own,” he says. “If students can move toward understanding other societies, they will in turn be richer for it.”

Biegon’s students engages in lively classroom debates. He enjoys getting to know and meet with each student individually — a near-impossibility in his homeland where class sizes average 400 to 500 students.

Next semester, he will teach a class on the history of African nationalist movements as well as a course in Swahili, one of Kenya’s official languages. He also hopes to present two papers — one on the history of the Swahili language and the other on ethnic nationalist movements in Western Kenya during the colonial period. The presentations are open to all MSMU students, faculty and staff. 

Eliud Biegon, PhD, hanging out post-race with Mount running coach Radenko Miskovic.
Eliud Biegon, PhD, hanging out post-race with Mount running coach Radenko Miskovic.

When Biegon isn’t teaching, he spends time in the Mount’s library or runs — literally —around the campus. He has forged relationships with the Mount’s athletic coach and running team and recently took part in a 5K race at Dodger Stadium. He is also writing a book about the conflict that first sparked his interest in Western Kenya’s colonial history. When he needs a break from writing, he enjoys listening to Emily and Kaitlin Webster-Zuber playing the piano in the music room next to his office.

“The Mount has given me the gift of a quiet and inspiring environment to write my first book and reflect on where I would like to head with my teaching and research,” he says.

Biegon’s research hasn’t answered all of his questions about the events that took place in his village. In fact, it has raised many other questions. But one thing he has gained is clarity.

“I realized that you may not be able to provide all the answers, but you can clarify events that were uncertain,” he says. “Hopefully this book will provide clarity about the context of the conflict, the communities involved and the driving forces during that period.”