WomAtWork. Women at work: for a comparative history of African female urban professions (Sudan, Tanzania and Ghana), 1919-1970

ERC Consolidator Grant 2021


WomAtWork represents the first comparative investigation into the history of female urban popular professions in in three African countries – Ghana/Gold Coast, Sudan, and Tanganyika/Tanzania – over the course of fifty years (1919-1970). Not only is this topic under-studied in African history, but these professions (i.e. midwives, beauticians, wedding singers, market vendors, craftswomen) are also characterised by fascinating and unsettling aspects. For example, notions such as a set price for a service and fixed working times or workplace did not apply to many of them.

WomAtWork aims first to discover the peculiarities of these labour patterns and see their historical transformations as a result of political changes and the introduction of new technologies and commodities. Secondly, it examines professional subjectivities, the work ethos, norms and values of women at work. Finally, it questions the relationship between these professionals and their communities – including in the light of the social stigma sometimes attached to them – as well as the nexus between these labourers and protest, charting when and why they laid down their tools.

Based on an innovative methodology, this project seeks to overcome the invisibility of women in official archives by weaving together different threads of sources. It begins inside those photographic archives connected with institutions that had conscious agendas of representation and routines of intense textual production (for example, missionary stations). In some cases, these visual and textual sources lead to networks or families of women professionals, whose oral history will be solicited. Third, the project aims to analyse the vernacular press combined with oral accounts.

Through these objectives and methodologies, WomAtWork will be a participant in the mission of writing a more democratic, more inclusive history, one that firmly establish the centrality of women’s labour in African history.

Project duration

1st January 2023 -31st December 2027 (60 months)

Unibo Team Leader

Prof. Karin Pallaver (senior staff)

Scientific responsible for the Department

Prof. Elena Vezzadini, CNRS, Paris


  • CNRS, Paris
  • Università di Bologna
  • École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris
  • Université de Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne
  • Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique – Nigeria
  • Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique – Kenya
  • Centre for Economic, Legal and Social Studies – Khartoum


1.800.000 euro


SH6 Studio del passato umano: archeologia, storia e memoria

Level I ERC sectors

The Study of the Human Past: Archaeology and history

Level II ERC sectors

  • SH6_10 Colonial and post-colonial history
  • SH6_11 Global history,transnational history,comparative history,entangled histories
  • SH6_12 Social and economic history
  • SH6_13 Gender history, cultural history, history of collective identities and memories, history of religions