John Aerni-Flessner

Associate Professor

C320A Snyder Hall

A portrait of a tall man with short brown-blond hair wearing a blue fleece under a black vest, smiling at the camera.



PhD in African and World History, Washington University in St. Louis
MA, Washington University in St. Louis
BA in History, Grinnell College


Twitter: Twitter logo @LesothoJohn


John Aerni-Flessner grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and earned a bachelor’s degree in history
with a secondary education certificate from Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. He taught high
school in Lesotho and in Kwethluk, Alaska—a Yup’ik Eskimo community—before going to
graduate school. Earning an MA and Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis in African
History, he taught at SUNY Cortland in Upstate New York before joining the RCAH at MSU.

He has researched and written extensively on youth, nationalism, development, borders, and
decolonization in Lesotho. John’s first book, Dreams for Lesotho: Independence, Foreign
Assistance, and Development, drew on research in London, Washington D.C., and Pretoria
(South Africa), but most of it came from archives in Lesotho. He has also conducted extensive
oral histories with Basotho in Lesotho, as well as American volunteers through programs like the
Peace Corps. He has articles relating to the history of development in Lesotho in the Journal of
African History and International Journal of African Historical Studies. He co-edited the volume
(with MSU-Ph.D.-graduate Leslie Hadfield) in the IJAHS on “Localizing the History of
Development in Africa.” He also wrote a piece on refugee smuggling and women in rural
Lesotho published in Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies.

His research emphasis has shifted to writing histories of the border and borderlands between
Lesotho and South Africa. This has been a collaborative project with colleagues based in South
Africa and Lesotho, and many of the publications from this have been co-authored, reflecting the
collaborative process used to collect research information. This has included articles that have
appeared in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth Studies looking at how individuals and
states in the late colonial and early independence period defined and utilize citizenship and
passports, a piece in the South African Historical Journal examining how narratives about the
theft of animals like cows and sheep have shaped border histories, and an article in the Journal of
Southern African Studies looking at how conflicts over the drawing of borders in the apartheid
era allowed smaller states in southern Africa to counter the economic and political power of the
South African regime. John is co-editor of a book examining border histories and their
ramifications for people trying to cross them that will be published in late 2023.

John has also been working with Drs. Nthabiseng Mokoena-Mokhali (National University of
Lesotho) and Charles Fogelman (University of Illinois) to revise the Historical Dictionary of
Lesotho and the 3 rd Edition will be published in late 2023.

John also writes for southern African media outlets on the politics of development in Lesotho,
and on the political scene. A few links are here: 2015 elections, how overpopulation is not
Lesotho’s worryPrime Minister Mosisili RetiresSecurity Unrest in LesothoBasotho Migrants
in South AfricaLesotho at 50Lesotho’s 2022 election.

He also tweets extensively about Lesotho and Southern African politics, history, and
development at @LesothoJohn. 

In the RCAH, John has taught courses on Global Slavery, Music and Popular Culture in 20th
Century Africa, Malcolm X in Lansing, Urban Renewal in Lansing, Language and Culture in
Lesotho, the History of Public Health in Africa, and an examination of Decolonization.