Sara Byala is a Senior Lecturer in Critical Writing and a scholar of modern African history. South African born, Byala holds a PhD from Harvard University and a BA from Tufts University. Her research into the ways in which capitalist systems intersect with social and cultural forces in Africa culminated in Bottled: How Coca-Cola Became African (Hurst, 2023). Based upon extensive archival work and fieldwork in Africa, Bottled suggests that the history and footprint of Coca-Cola in Africa is best understood as evidence of the company’s localness.
Byala’s early work explored the import of colonial archives in postcolonial times through the biography of a cultural history museum and resulted in A Place that Matters Yet: John Gubbins’s MuseumAfrica in the Postcolonial World (University of Chicago Press, 2013). She is currently embarking on new projects relating to religion and migration on the African continent.
Byala has taught a wide range of writing seminars about Africa, including ones on Coca-Cola, soccer, truth commissions, and cocoa. She also teaches Craft of Prose and Penn Global Seminars, which include travel to countries in Africa.
Byala is the Associate Director of the Penn Global Documentary Institute, a Penn Global Research Institute that aims to tell global stories through local collaboration.