CEDEJ welcomes Georg Lilie

Georg Lilie is a historian and area specialist holding an MA in Intensive South Asian Studies from SOAS University of London. From November on, he will work with the CNRS at IMAF and CEDEJ Khartoum as a doctoral candidate of EHESS, writing a social history of women’s urban popular labour in Sudan during the Anglo-Egyption Condominium. Likewise, his past research projects pertained to labour movements, class and gender, especially in Pakistan. His MA thesis investigated connections and contradictions between middle-class socialist-feminists and working-class women in contemporary Karachi. In 2021, he examined the entangled history of India and the German Democratic Republic through the activities of the latter’s trade unions as a research fellow at Zentrum Moderner Orient. He has not just worked on social movements in the past, but also worked alongside them as a translator and journalist.

PhD abstract

A History of Women’s Urban Popular Labour in Colonial Sudan (1900-1956)

The history of women’s urban labour in colonial Sudan has long been considered to be confined to slavery and at later stages to the civil service alone. This might be explained through both a gender bias in the available textual colonial archives and historiography itself. However, there is ample evidence in non-textual archives, such as the collection of photographs of the Sudan Archive in Durham, to suggest that cases of popular and remunerated labour existed. Those professions, to name a few, included teachers, nurses, prostitutes, midwifes, hairdressers, producers of baskets, water carriers and market traders.

A critical understanding of women’s urban popular labour will by necessity include an investigation of the contradictions and connections between free and slave status, and the changes in Sudan’s political economy. Likewise, an understanding of interrelated changes in the family will be crucial. Such an approach offers the opportunity to understand processes of social transformation from slave to free labour, and vis-à-vis master, employer, or customer, as well as changes in previously existing free professions carried out by women. Furthermore, it implies important changes and a reconfiguration between the domestic sphere and the wider world of social relations.

Thus, researching women’s urban popular labour between 1900 and 1956 will not simply close an important gap in colonial and Sudanese history. It will also allow us to better grasp how colonial modernity created new understandings of the public and private, combined old and new forms of work in transformative processes and the creation of new markets. Equally important, the proposed focus on the working women’s subjectivity shall present their individual stories and collective struggles. This thereby establishes that they were agents in their own right, however, in a restrictive and strongly gendered society. 

Although colonial archival texts will be used, the focus lies on a combined analysis of photographs, contemporary texts such as women’s magazines, memoirs and diaries, coupled with oral history interviews with contemporaries or descendants of the former’s families or trades.

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