Karin Willemse

Karin Willemse is assistant professor of History.

Current projects 

  • Book project: Gender, Motherhood, Belonging, Gendered narrations of the Nation and beyond (Routledge, working title)

This volume centers on how and when national discourses about motherhood are instrumental in creating a sense of civic belonging for women. Although nation-states may differ in the contexts in which national belongings are constructed, their histories and paths of modernity share the fact that motherhood has become a trope for active female citizenship in relation to a paternalistic state. So, despite differences, motherhood figures in dominant discourses that aim to construct a moral space in modernizing nation-states based on gendered constructions of national identity and the private/public distinction. Analyzing these issues in a diversity of contexts will generate insights into recurrent patterns and mechanisms of gendered constructions of national identity, belonging, citizenship and state building. Comparing narratives of belonging from different contexts can thereby provide a bottom-up perspective on belonging as an intrinsic, continuously (re-)negotiated part of intersected identity constructions in relation to the nation-state and beyond.

The contributions to the volume focus on the following themes:

  • (Pre)colonial discourses on nation building & non-motherhood (moral motherhood);
  • State violence, bio-/body-politics and forbidden motherhood; 
  • Migration and ‘proper’ motherhood as part of integration policies;
  • Activism, and collective motherhood in hostile/violent nation states:
  • Nature, the sacred, and motherhood in the antropocene.

Edited volume, co-edited with Dr. Tine Davids (assistant professor, KAOS - Radboud University: t.davids@maw.ru.nl)

Routledge  Series: “Gender in a Global/Local World” (editors Jane Parpart - University of Massachusetts Boston, USA, Carleton University and University of Ottawa, Canada; Marianne Marchand - Universidad de las Américas, Puebla, Mexico; Rirhandu Mageza-Barthel - University of Kassel, Germany): https://www.routledge.com


  • "The Nile: Inclusion and Exclusion over a Trans-boundary Resource (water and land acquisition) – A ‘scenario development process’. (Leiden ASA-Africa2020 funded)

Although the Nile is an indispensable resource for the people who are living alongside it, Nile governance has not been designed and implemented conveniently on national and regional levels. Inside national territories, different challenges impede the livelihood of populations such as the frequency of droughts, floods, deforestation, land degradation and water pollution. On the transnational level, the disagreement about the allocation of Nile water causes a lack of trust and confrontations mainly between the upstream and downstream countries.

As a result, governing the Nile as part of a national policy as well as a regional strategy entails a multilayered process that takes into account the diversity of norms, rules and actors. In this regard, the equity of distribution, conservation, water rights are examples of norms and values that may (or may not) be reflected in the administrative rules of managing water services inside the country or in the regional basin organization. These norms and rules are affected by the interactions among various stakeholders at the grassroots (farmers, pastoralists, fishermen), the middle actors such as local business, civil society organizations, media as well as at the level of powerful actors, such as policy makers and multinational corporations. This proposed workshop aims to unpack these layers of Nile governance on local, national and transnational levels by focusing on water and land acquisition in the riparian countries. Furthermore, the workshop aims to induce policy recommendations based on the analysis of actors’ interests and the applied rules regarding water and lands in the Nile basin. Therefore, the workshop will apply a ‘scenario development process’ in order to analyze the contextual factors and driving forces. The participants will develop a scenariologic storyline of land and water acquisition in and from the Nile, which will result in one or two promising future scenarios. Next, the organizers will invite policy makers from the Nile basin and international organizations in the closing session to discuss these scenarios with them.


  • Research project: General Labour History of Africa, 1600-1900 (working title, Leiden ASA-Africa2020& ILO funded)

Project description

The project concerns an Africa oriented activity based at Leiden University (ASC, LUIH, LIAS) and Erasmus University, in cooperation with the Centre for African Studies at the University of Edinburgh; the Research Centre on Work and Human Lifecycle in Global History (Re:work) at Humboldt University of Berlin; the International Institute of Social History (IISH) of Amsterdam and the ILO Regional Office for Africa.

A consequence of the 2007/2008 financial crisis has been a generalised reconsideration of capitalism, its functioning and even its desirability. Piketty’s Capital in Twentieth Century, Beckert’s Empire of Cotton, Kocka and van der Linden’s Capitalism: The Re-emergence of a Historical Concept are all examples of how this critique has developed. The central, unavoidable theme of this re-thinking of capitalism is labour. Hence, there is now a revival of labour studies, including labour history.

Processes of wealth accumulation via labour exploitation, which are also historical in nature, are fundamental for the understanding of African societies, as explained by Africanist authors such as Webster, Bonner, Fall, Ali Souag, Hammouda and Nzongola-Ntalaja, to mention a few outside the LeidenASA network. Furthermore, Cooper, Eckert and Austin (all members of the ILO General Labour History of Africa project) have explained why and how labour history is essential in order to understand African economies today.


The following aspects will be central in the project as a whole:

  • The gender element is fundamental in this project. In Africa, the study of labour entails an in-depth analysis of the role of women in societies. This is especially true for the period dealt with in this project, where agricultural and household labour was a fundamental aspect of African life.
  • Vertical relations (modes of exploitation of labour), requiring the study of the relationship between labourers and employers, will also constitute a major focus of this project.
  • From this analysis of vertical labour relations, studies will take into account both sides: the history of workers and that of “employers” (in their multiple-denominations)
  •  Labour will need to be put into the context of culture and family in Africa. Household, communal and tributary labour are central in the centuries under examination.
  • The “transcontinentality” or “translocality” of the topics under historical analysis should emerge from the study of processes of economic organisations of labour: nomadic, perennially on the move, linked to trade or slave systems, etc.
  • Trans-oceanic relationships are also elements of translocality in labour as well as in global migration as we know it today: from Africa towards other continents; from outside Africa towards the continent, and within the African continent.
  • Authors will combine secondary and primary sources when necessary. The problem is not so much that of discovering something new in the history of African labour, but rather and especially to coherently and cohesively organise the existing findings.
  • A comparison between different times and regions will be another methodological tool.


Project aim:
The aim is to produce a publication an all-encompassing history of African labour covering the centuries from 1600 to 1900 still needs to be written. Furthermore, as will be touched upon later, labour is an issue that affects directly and indirectly the work of various members of the Leiden African Studies Assembly. This project would mark the continuation of an on-going process initiated by the ILO’s African Office in 2013. The ILO commissioned two of the applicants of this grant (Stefano Bellucci and Andreas Eckert) to coordinate the writing of a General Labour History of Africa (GLHA). The volume 1900-today was published in 2019 (James Currey).


Members of the organizing team:
- Coordinator: Dr. Stefano Bellucci, lecturer, Leiden University, Institute for History; senior researcher, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam (Netherlands); s.bellucci@hum.leidenuniv.nl;

- Prof. Dr. Andreas Eckert, professor, Humboldt University of Berlin, Research Centre on Work and Human Lifecycle in Global History (Germany); andreas.eckert@asa.hu-berlin.de;

- Dr. Klaas van Walraven, senior researcher, Leiden University, African Studies Centre (Netherlands); walraven@ascleiden.nl;

- Dr. Karin Willemse, assistant professor, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, School of History, Culture and Communication, Department of History (Netherlands); k.willemse@eshcc.eur.nl;


  • Book project: Landscapes of memories - ’Nubian’ living heritage as constructed through narratives on belonging and loss (funded by an Urgent Anthropology Fellowship of the Royal Anthropological Institute and the  British Museum)

The volume and book that is being produced is based on the anthropological/historical research that was conducted mainly in Abri Town, Nubia, North Sudan (2014-2016), in conjunction with the British Museum archaeological mission in Amara West. Like similar communities in the Nile Valley of northern Sudan, Abri is facing radical transformations brought about by a variety of infrastructural developments such as in-house water taps and electricity, the construction of tarmac roads (recently also across the border with Egypt) and (the threat of) the construction of dams, the arrival of mobile technologies, and changing food ways.

The research focused on how the Abri population copes with these rapid changes. Some communities closer to Khartoum, notably those who near the Merowe Dam, have recently been forcibly resettled. An event that is reminiscent of the resettlement of Nubians from Wadi Halfa as a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt in the 1960s. The recent dam project of the Sudanese government has its impact on the notion of Nubian heritage and identity in Abri, although the dam that is planned in its vicinity (Dal Dam) is not yet being constructed. The events (demonstration, killing of 4 boys) during protests at the Kasjbar Dam, however, have had its impact on Abri people as well. The research shows how different interest groups hold different perspectives on Nubian heritage and identity. The notion of 'Nubian-ness’ proved central to perceptions of belonging by these diverse groups referring to a diversity of historical, socio-cultural, economic and political narratives.

This book project consists of:

  • An edited volume on the theme of ‘Nubian Living Heritage’ will be published as an edited volume, entitled Nubian living heritage: Past, present and future of Nubian communities in Sudan, (t.b.p. with Peeters, Brussels, with the British Museum & RAI). It is based on papers from diverse disciplinary perspectives presented at two seminars (Khartoum and British Museum London), organized as part of the Fellowship.
  • An ethnography based on the fieldwork will be published Nubian narratives of belonging and loss. Nubian heritage as constructed through reflections on spaces of memory and threats of extinction (working title).
  • Results from the research, in particular visuals, was part of the Exhibition ‘A Tale of Two Rivers: The Lower Wye and the River Nile’ at Exeter University in February 2017’.
  • The research also led to the membership of the Heritage under Threat Research Programme at the Centre for Global Heritage and Development, LDE/Leiden-Delft-Erasmus.


Upcoming projects

There are several projects in 2020 that are all related to the ‘New Sudan’, the Sudan after the ousting of Omar al-Bashir that I am engaged in.

  • Mapping social movements ‘from below’ in post el-Bashir Sudan: a bottom-up documentation and analysis of the demonstrations and revolution 2018-2020 (funding CEDEJ - Centre for Economic, Legal and Social Studies Khartoum; IISG Amsterdam)

After the huge popular movement that led to the fall of the 30-years long regime of Omar El-Bashir on April 11th 2019, most of the history of the mobilization and the ongoing transition remain to be written. This project is a collaboration of Sudanese and non-Sudanese scholars, activists, policymakers, artists in Sudan as well as abroad. The aim is to document the process of resistance as well as the organization and activities during the demonstrations from the perceptions of the different social groups that constitute the ‘social movement for a new Sudan’. The research uses oral narratives and feed-back as/ with visual means (photographs, filming, artistic production) as methods to study the diverse perceptions of the different groups. I have personally been asked at many discussions, panels and the radio in the Netherlands as well as by Embassies in Khartoum to reflect on the historical role of women in resistance movements and the past demonstrations. The project will therefore focus on the role of gender, generation (youth), ethnicity and class in the demonstrations, sit-ins, art works (murals), poetry and other resistance activities.


  • The Khartoum as a migration hub: mobility, decision taking and economies of value (awaiting decision on funding)

This research focuses on Khartoum as a receiving, sending and transit ‘hub’. The location of Khartoum at the confluence of the two Niles has made the city a longstanding hub of immigration as well as emigration. This research focusses on the persons who are engaged in the decision taking and making processes by one or more persons of their ‘group’ (a family, ethnic group, peer group etc.) that are of importance in influencing the decisions of especially youths to become ‘mobile’. Thereby in particular the influence of local, cultural and ethnic notions of ‘economies of value’ will be considered as a major element in this decision making and taking process. The research has a bottom-up approach and uses the method of biographic narratives, digital mapping and participant observation in order to acquire insight into the aspirations, ambitions, hopes and challenges that are relevant in the way that young people navigate their social-economic and cultural landscape in order to construct a viable future.

In this research the focus will be on three groups of migrants: Darfurians who have till recently been considered IDP’s in the capital of their own country. The ending of the Bashir regime also meant a formal end to the war in Darfur. This has resulted in a large influx of in particular young men and women in the capital to find economic opportunities, mostly in the informal economy and low skilled jobs. The second group are Eritrean and Ethiopian migrants, who have a long history of moving to and from Khartoum, and who traditionally engaged in activities in the service industry.  In addition, there is the recent influx of Syrian and Yemeni migrants whose move to Sudan facilitated by the fact that they do not need a visa to enter Sudan. Members of these nationalities are often from a high class background, which means they have access to money which is invested in food businesses, money exchange business and the tourist and passport business, which may sometimes lead to trafficking migrants on their way to Europe.

The diversity of these migrants are of importance to consider, as these have not only altered the urban landscape of Khartoum and of other cities in the Horn of Africa. It has also opened up alternative routes to other receiving countries, in particular in the North of Africa, functioning as transit spaces to Europe. especially in the context of the so-called ‘Khartoum Process’ or ‘Rome Declaration’ in which the EU has marked Sudan as an important hub of migrants who want to move to Europe. As stated on the EU website:

“The Khartoum Process is a platform for political cooperation amongst the countries along the migration route between the Horn of Africa and Europe. It aims at establishing a continuous dialogue for enhanced cooperation on migration and mobility. The process also seeks to support member states in identifying and implementing concrete projects to address trafficking in human beings and the smuggling of migrants. Additionally, the Khartoum Process gives a new impetus to the regional collaboration between countries of origin, transit and destination regarding the migration route between the Horn of Africa and Europe.” https://www.khartoumprocess.net/

Therefore, the EU has instigated the so-called Joint Valetta Action Plan:

“In order to support the most fragile and affected African countries in implementing the JVAP, a financial instrument was launched at the Summit: namely the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF).”

In focusing on the youths and their social networks, the research will consider the relevance and efficiency of these policy instruments that are meant to map, control as well as to constrict migration.


Social outreach / Valorization

The main focus of my engagement with societal actors is bridging the gap between the academia and societal processes, in particular with respect to people, processes and products in and from Africa, as well as on gender and Islam, in particular in Sudan.

  • Winter University (since 2017) collaborative project in organizing an annual seminar of voluntary teaching (in particular to staff and PhD students) at Sudanese universities (Khartoum, Dongola) with academics from the Netherlands (Erasmus University Rotterdam, University of Amsterdam, Maastricht University, Wageningen University) and Canada (Calgary University) in cooperation with the Netherlands-Sudan Friendship Society and the Sudanese Expat Association;
  • Member (VOND) of the 1325 NAP of WO=MEN (signatory 2019)
  • CARE international – advisor Norms Expert Group on ‘norms, gender and governance’
  • Advisor ‘Bevordering Verantwoorde Onderzoekspraktijken (Promoting Responsible Research)’ of ZonMw (NWO) in the project ‘Achieving good science – a cross disciplinary study by Jeannette Pols, Amade M’charek, Sonja Jerak-Zuiderent, Jonna Brenninkmeijer: www.zonmw.nl
  • Board member of the NVAS ( Nederlandse Vereniging Afrika Studies), popularizing knowledge of and information on Africa


Based on extensive anthropological field research in Sudan (in particular Darfur, Khartoum and Nubia) since 1985, and in South Africa since 2002 Karin Willemse has been consulted by a diversity of societal actors, notably:

  • Dutch NGO’s & Civil Society organizations, such as  Nederlandse Vrouwen voor Vrede, Cord-Aid, Pax Christi, Holocaust and Genocide Studies-UvA, the Africa Day/Evert Vermeer Stichting, CARE, WO=MEN, the Netherlands Embassy in Khartoum;
  • The Dutch army Officers seminar (Ede) with Prof. dr. Jan Pronk (then the Special Envoy to the Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, on Nuba Mountains and Darfur, Sudan) on gender and Islam in Darfur, West-Sudan.
  • INGO’s like OXFAM, WFP, WHO, AZG-Doctors Without Borders (NL&BE), African Union; and local civil society organizations in Sudan (SALMMAH women and youth association; Sudanese Women Engendering the Peace Process (SUWEP), Women Organization Netherlands Darfur, the British Embassy;
  • South African organizations such as GALA (The Gay and Lesbian Archive, Johannesburg, South Africa) and Muslim organizations in Durban and Cape Town, South Africa.


Media Presence

09-12-2019      ‘The dream of the Sudanese revolution’, panel discussion organized by the Amnesty International Studentgroup Amsterdam (AISA).

23-11-2019     ‘Power-sharing agreement in Sudan: what needs to be done?’ Presentation and discussion on the Sudanese revolution during a ‘Political Café’ organized by the Foundation Max van der Stoel, (The Hague). www.foundationmaxvanderstoel.nl

04-11-2019      ‘The Sudanese revolution’, presentation and discussion on the historical role of Sudanese women in demonstrations and political institutions, organized by Afro Student Association of the International Studies, Leiden University (The Hague Campus).

14-04-2019      Onvoltooid Verleden Tijd (Radio 1, VPRO) ‘Opstand in Soedan’: interview on the role of women in the demonstrations that led to the fall of the Islamist government of Omar el-Bashir in Sudan on the 11th of April 2019. www.nporadio1.nl

08-11-2017      ‘Wetenschap in de Praktijk’, Interview on Gender and Migration in Erasmus Alumni Magazine, issuu.com/erasmusuniversiteitrotterdam

24-06-2017      ‘What makes them tick’ (EUR): video and interview on research on migration in Africa www.eur.nl & www.youtube.com

04-07-2017     ‘Nasor en Kali: een kind en neushoorn uit Tanzania samen tentoon gesteld in Diergaarde Blijdorp (1931)’. (Rijnmond.nl Nieuws Web Archief): www.rijnmond.nl

13-12- 2016     Panel discussion on the documentary ‘Wallah je te jure’ at the Global Migration Film Festival of the IOM (International Organization of Migration)

08-06-2015      '”Neger”tentoonstelling tijdens de Nenijto in Rotterdam (1928) - Over menselijke dierentuinen en SBS-6 programma ‘Groeten uit de Rimboe & De Groeten Terug’, Radioprogramma Middag aan de Maas / Vergeten Verhalen Radio Rijnmond: www.rijnmond.nl


Former projects

Islam in Africa: Globalization and moving frontiers

Between 2006-2009 I coordinated, as main applicant together with Prof. Dr. P.L. Geschiere, a multidisciplinary NWO project ‘Islam in Africa: Globalization and moving frontiers’ as part of the NWO Research Programme Future of the religious past. The project focused on the role of religion into constructions of identities among youths in urban spaces in Cameroon, Senegal, South Africa and Sudan and was conducted in collaboration with scholars from these countries (resp. Jose van Santen, Cheikh Gueye, Shamil Jeppie). In the context of this research I conducted research into the Sufism, violence and the Darfur War, and tribal reconciliation mechanisms as well as on methodology.

It resulted in some publications, an out-reach seminar in Dakar, Senegal entitled ‘Islamic Renewal in Africa: Struggles over the Public Sphere and Development’ (23-25 June 2009) with international scholars like Tariq Ramadan, Victoria Bernal & local scholars and religious leaders; and the seminar ‘What are the connections between Africa’s contemporary conflicts’, co-organized with the Africa Studies Centre and the Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University: Mirjam de Bruin, Han van Dijk. Jona Both and Karlijn Muiderman and the web-publication:

Dossier Connecting Africa’s Conflicts, July 2015 

‘Muslim communities and the struggle over the public sphere', Introduction Special Issue, Contemporary Islam, co-edited with Sylvia Bergh (f.c.).

'Darfur tribal courts, reconciliation conferences and judea. Local justice mechanisms and the construction of citizenship in Sudan´ in: Kamari Clarke, Abel Knottnerus and Eefje de Volder, Africa and the International Criminal Court: Realities and Perceptions of a Fractious Relationship, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (f.c.).

‘Embodied Engagements: Feminist ethnography at the crossing of knowledge production and representation- An Introduction´, Special Issue co-edited with Tine Davids, Women Studies International Forum, (2014) 43, 1-4.

”Everything I told you was true”. The biographic narrative as a method of critical feminist knowledge production’, Women Studies International Forum, (2014) 43, 38-49.

'Zawiya, zikr and the authority of sheikh “Al-Pepsi”: The social in sacred place     making in Omdurman, Sudan’, in: Patrick A. Desplat, Dorothea E. Schulz (eds.)Prayer in the City. The Making of Muslim Sacred Places and Urban Life, (Bielefeld: Transcript-Verlag für Kommunikation, Kultur und soziale Praxis).

'Landscapes of memories: Visual and spatial dimensions of Hajja's narrative of self’, Narrative Works: Issues Investigations & Interventions, (2012), 2(1), 129-149. Publication on methodology

'”In my father’s house”. Gender, Islam and the construction of a gendered public sphere in Darfur, Sudan’. Special Issue: ‘Islam and African Muslim Publics’, Journal for Islamic Studies vol. 27, (2007): 72-113. 


SANPAD Projects (South Africa-Netherlands Research Programme on Alternatives in Development)

Between 2002 and 2013 I was engaged in 3 SANPAD projects as the Dutch partner and co-researcher.

Analysis of biographies of the research project ‘Is there a Deaf Culture in South Africa?’ with Dr. Ruth Morgan (GALA, WITS University Johannesburg);

2 research projects: On teenage fatherhood with Prof. Dr. Robert Morrell (Educational Studies University of KwaZulu Natal, SA) and on masculinity, sexuality and HIV/AIDS (Prof. dr. Graham Lindegger, University of KwaZulu Natal, SA).

Senior researcher in the project Identity, Belonging and Place in South Africa, with Dr. Goolam Vahed (Dept. of History, University of KwaZulu Natal, SA).

Willemse, Karin & Vahed, Goolam. 'Between the Heavens Above and the Havens Below. The growing power of Pentecostalism', in Desai & G. Vahed (Eds.), Chatsworth:  

The Making of a South African Township (Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press) pp. 415-433.

Vahed, Goolam. & Willemse, Karin. 'Mad about Drugs, Mad against drugs', in Desai  & G. Vahed (Eds.), In Desai & G. Vahed (Eds.), Chatsworth: The Making of a South  African Township (Scottsville: University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal Press), pp. 292-305

'Deaf, Gay, HIV Positive, and Proud: Narrating an alternative identity in Post-Apartheid South Africa', with Ruth Morgan and John Meletse’. Special Issue ‘New perspectives on sexualities in South Africa’, Canadian Journal of African Studies, (2009) vol. 43, no. 1, 84-106.

NIAS Projects (Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences – KNAW)

In 2005/6 and 2008 I was awarded two NIAS Fellowships: an individual (10 months) and as co-Applicant of the Theme Group Coming to terms with a Shattered World: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Mediations of Violence in Africa, resulting in the publication Mediations of violence in Africa: Fashioning new futures from contested pasts, edited by Lidwien Kapteijns and Annemiek Richters.

The Darfur War: Masculinity and the construction of a Sudanese national identity’, in S. Hassan & C. Ray (Eds.), Darfur and the crisis of governance in Sudan (London: Cornell University Press), pp. 213-233.

'One foot in heaven’. Narratives on gender and Islam in Darfur, West-Sudan (Leiden: BRILL Publishers). 


Portrait of Karen Willemse
+31 10 408 2517
+31 10 408 9135
Van der Goot Building
Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
3062 PA

Vergelijk @count opleiding

  • @title

    • Tijdsduur: @duration
Vergelijk opleidingen