RCAH’s John Aerni-Flessner Co-Authors New Edition of Lesotho Historical Dictionary

December 8, 2023

  • RCAH professor co-authors book used by researchers globally.
  • Volume is “a book that asks readers to engage with Lesotho on an intellectually equal level.”
  • Aerni-Flessner has a long academic and personal history working in Lesotho.

By Maren Case ’24

RCAH Associate Professor John Aerni-Flessner has co-authored The Historical Dictionary of Lesotho, the culmination of many years of research. The book serves as an expert reference for students, researchers, and others interested in the southern African country. 

“My collaborators and I thought this was a really important book that serves as a reference for folks who are studying Lesotho, many of whom are coming to it without any background or experience in the country,” Aerni-Flessner offered. “It’s really important that the book not only has the facts right, but that it asks readers to turn their orientation towards Lesotho instead of comparing first with Global North institutions or ideas.”

The book is the third edition of the The Historical Dictionary of Lesotho, which was first published in 1977, and the first to be published in a decade. The volume delves into the history as well as the contemporary culture and politics of the country. As co-author of the project, Aerni-Flessner was able to lead the work to its publication. 

Aerni-Flessner was the only historian on the project as his co-authors were a geographer and an archaeologist, with the archaeologist being the first-ever author from Lesotho to work on the book. Detailing aspects of life, culture, and history in Lesotho, the book allows people to find important information quickly, as well as get an overview of life and culture in the country. It serves as an important reference book for scholars but also for those who might be traveling to the country for the first time. 

As the country is surrounded by South Africa, many people overlook Lesotho or assume it is similar to South Africa, according to Aerni-Flessner.

“Our goal was to write a book that asks readers to engage with Lesotho on an intellectually equal level,” he said. “That took more time than simply revising the second edition, but my co-authors and I are very pleased with how it ended up.”

Aerni-Flessner’s research and publications focus on youth, nationalism, development, borders, and decolonization in Lesotho, as well as histories of the border and borderlands between Lesotho and South Africa. In 2018, his book Dreams for Lesotho: Independence, Foreign Assistance, and Development was published by the University of Notre Dame Press and is also available in Lesotho from the Morija Museum and Archives.

The Historical Dictionary of Lesotho is available for purchase here.