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, Southern Africa and in Kwethluk, Alaska—a Yup’ik Eskimo community—before going back to graduate school. Earning an MA and Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis in African History, he first taught at SUNY Cortland in Upstate New York for three years before joining the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) at MSU.

His research has focused on youth, nationalism, development, borders, and decolonization in Lesotho but the stories he tells, he says, are, of necessity, transnational. His first book, Dreams for Lesotho: Independence, Foreign Assistance, and Development, was based in part on his dissertation, but it included significant new archival work he conducted in the interim in London, Washington D.C., Pretoria, and Lesotho. He also does oral history, having done extensive interviews with Basotho in Lesotho as well as American Peace Corps volunteers who served in Lesotho from 1967 to 1973. 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 latest project is a history of the Lesotho-South Africa border from the nineteenth century to the present. He is still working to complete the research for this project, but had a preliminary article come out in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth Studies outlining the struggles of individuals and states in the late colonial and early independence period to define and utilize citizenship and passports. 
He also has written extensively for popular media in both print and online about contemporary politics in Lesotho. He writes with some frequency for southern Africa media outlets like the Mail and Guardian and The Daily Maverick. His commentary (some co-authored) can be found here: 2015 elections,how overpopulation is not Lesotho’s worryPrime Minister Mosisili RetiresSecurity Unrest in LesothoBasotho Migrants in South AfricaLesotho at 50Election Analysis

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

He teaches courses on Global Slavery, Decolonization, Music and Popular Culture in 20th Century Africa, Malcolm X in Lansing, Urban Renewal in Lansing, and the History of Public Health in Africa.