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History of female urban popular professions in Africa (1920-1970)

Call for proposals

The European Union-funded project “Women at work : for a comparative history of African female urban professions (Ethiopia, Sudan, Tanzania, Ghana) 1920-1970” (WomatWork) invites applications for research and fieldwork grants aimed to support Master students, PhD candidates, and postdocs interested in the history of women of popular classes working in urban professions during the colonial and early post-colonial periods in Africa (1920-1970).

The selected candidates will present their results at a summer school that will take place in Addis Ababa from 7 to 15 October 2024.

Description of the research theme

In this project, we aim to tackle one of the most neglected chapters in the history of African labor, that of professional women belonging to popular classes. We focus primarily on self-employed income earners based in urban centers, such as petty traders and market women ; artisans (for example tailors, weavers, pottery-makers) ; ‘body professionals’ such as birth attendants, estheticians, and hairdressers ; and finally, popular singers and musicians. This list is by no means all-inclusive. We seek to explore the common threads among these professions, such as the process of acquisition of professional skills through training ; the relation between skills and income, and the fact that women’s income depended (also) on the cumulative mastery of these skills (the more one practiced, the better one became). Finally, we assume that these professions led to the development of work ethos, shared workers’ values, norms, and perhaps an esprit de corps that we are particularly eager to ascertain.

We look at historical changes inside these professions as well as in technologies of work ; at different typologies of professions and their change over time (some professions appeared ; others disappeared over time). Finally, we seek to understand how these fifty momentous years of African history (1920-1970) impacted these professions, especially with the rise of labor and nationalist movements, independence, and the turn to one-party states.

Application process

The deadline for application is the 15th of March 2024.

To apply, please send the following documents to this email address :

 The application form (see below), which should be no more than 3000 words (excluding bibliographic references) ;
 A one-page cover letter in which you explain your background, your interest in the project, and the place this has in your current research plans ;
 A detailed curriculum vitae (in PDF), including relevant publications ;
 Up to two reference letters and/or letters of support from your institution.

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