Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Great Zimbabwe, colonialism, imperialism, legend, myth, pseudohistory, Rhodesia

Major Advisor

Brendan Kane

Associate Advisor

Fiona Vernal

Associate Advisor

Melina Pappademos

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


In the eleventh century CE, the Shona people of Central Africa built the city of Great Zimbabwe, an administrative center and royal home. Connected to the Indian Ocean gold trade, it would become the largest pre-colonial city in sub-Saharan Africa. However, it entered into decline and was ultimately abandoned by the sixteenth century – when the first Portuguese expeditions came in contact with the region. The fact that this city entered into decline just as Europeans encountered it set it up to become the center of a number of fantastical legends about its origins, typically linking it with the Biblical King Solomon and his gold mine of Ophir.

Most prior studies of the “foreign builder hypothesis” have focused on the fact that white supremacist ideologies of explorers and settlers tended to reject the idea that Africans could have built a city like Great Zimbabwe. This study instead focuses on how successive regimes in Central Africa approached the legend of Great Zimbabwe for their own political ends. In doing so, this study reveals how settler colonialism not only builds off of, but facilitates the construction of “mythic histories” to justify rights not only to the land, but its history. Further, this project illuminates how those approaches to mythic history formed in the nineteenth century persisted after the end of formal colonialism, and have helped feed not only mainstream white supremacist discourse in former imperial metropoles, but served as the origin of modern anti-intellectual and anti-government political movements in the United States.