Call for a PhD candidate on the theme : “A History of Women’s Urban Popular Labour in Colonial Sudan (1900-1956)”


A three-year PhD scholarship is offered to a candidate willing to develop the following theme: the social history of female popular professions in urban contexts during the Anglo- Egyptian Condominium in Sudan through the lenses of vernacular, oral and photographic sources.

In the historiography of contemporary northern Sudan, women history is conspicuous for its scarcity, and all the more the history of “ordinary women”, including one fundamental aspect of women’s lives, that is labour.

The absence of women in the historiography of northern Sudan (the actual Republic of Sudan), and especially during the colonial period, is often seen as the result of two intertwined factors: the absence of sources and the absence of women in the public space as a result of female seclusion. This goes hand in hand with another common assumption: that during colonization, most women who worked for a retribution were either slaves and former slaves or came from regions that had been slave reservoirs during the 19 th Century. Because of their status, they could engage in behaviours that were frowned upon by free women, such as publicly mixing with men in the workplace.

British official documents, located in the national archives in Khartoum and London, are indeed poor in information about Sudanese women, regardless of their status or social group. However, this is not the case for all archives and all types of sources. Indeed, a type of source that is rich in information about “ordinary women” are the photographs kept at the Sudan Archive in Durham University (UK), which hosts the largest collection of documents left by former colonial officers. The archive includes over 57,000 photographs, among which there are hundreds and probably thousands of images depicting women, most of them dating from the period between 1920 and 1950, and located in urban areas. Already at a first
glance, this archive is fascinating and surprising, and seems to contradict the historiographic doxa. First, women occupied public –yet gendered– spaces: they had their own areas at the market and roamed the streets for attending their jobs. Second, the photographs demonstrate the existence and even the large diffusion of retributed female labour.

However, photographs represent only a starting point for locating a web of other sources. First, oral sources: in some pictures of the collection, reference is made to the name of the women represented and the place in which they were located. In some cases, and probably for some professions more than others, it may be possible to trace the descendants or younger colleagues of the women photographed. Thus, the second crucial source for this project will be represented by oral accounts by female urban professionals and their families. Finally, oral sources and photographs will be cross-referenced with another type of largely underexploited source, i.e. the women’s vernacular press in Arabic, which developed from the 1940s onwards.

The intersection of these three types of materials will allow rich and complex perspectives on the history of women’s work, even if probably fragmentary. Finally, far from evacuating the issue of slavery and marginalisation, this project will seek to investigate the boundaries between free and slave status, question these categories, and better understand the connection between female labour and social hierarchies in colonial Sudan.

Practical conditions, qualifications and application process

The programme: CNRS “international PhD scholarship”, IMAF Paris and CEDEJ Khartoum

This PhD scholarship is part of a special scheme called “international PhD scholarships” granted by the French National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS), and it rests on special conditions: the scholarship lasts for three years, during which the PhD applicant is required to spend six months in Paris and six months in Khartoum each year.

In Paris, he/she will be based at the Institut des Mondes Africains (IMAF), site Condorcet, Aubervilliers (Paris), which is the largest centre for African Studies in France ( In Khartoum, the candidate will be based at the CEDEJ Khartoum (Centre for social, legal and economic studies and documentation in Sudan), a research centre affiliated with the CNRS (

Finally, the candidate will be registered at the Doctoral school of the Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and his/her diploma will be issued from this school.

Financial conditions:
The PhD candidate will have a three-year contract with the CNRS, a monthly brute pay of about € 2135 (roughly around € 1700, depending on taxation rate), and 45 days of annual leave. A small travel budget may be sought for in order to apply for archival research in Europe and the UK; however, this depends on the limited financial possibility of IMAF and may vary from one year to the next; the candidate is encouraged to apply for fieldwork financial support from other institutions as well.

Qualifications and required training:
MA in History, preferably on a theme connected to social and gender history. Applicants with a double background in African History and in Middle Eastern Studies are welcome to apply.

As the PhD thesis should be written ideally in English or otherwise in French, the candidate must have excellent writing skills in one of the two languages.
For non-French candidates, a working knowledge of French and the ability to communicate in this language will be a great asset.
Finally, ideally, the candidate will have at least a basic knowledge of Arabic.

A final note:
At IMAF, we make all efforts to promote diversity, equality and inclusion amongst our staff and students. As such, we welcome applications from all backgrounds. Applicants from African institutions are welcome to apply; they should only be aware that the procedure to apply for a work and study visa in France is cumbersome and fails in many cases. Thus, we will have to prioritize applicants who may have facilities in obtaining a work permit in France and a travel visa to Sudan.

Application process:
In order to apply, please send no later than July 21 st 2021:

  • your CV in English or French.
  • your Master thesis (if written in French, Spanish, Italian, English, Arabic, or any
    Nordic language); or otherwise, if written in another language, a 10-page summary in English.
  • your master diploma and any diploma who may support your application (language training etc.).
  • a 1 or 2-page cover letter in which you explain your motivation to research the
    proposed theme, in English or in French.
  • A reference letter These documents must be sent to the following address:

The successful candidate will be notified no later than August 15 th .

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