Karin Willemse

Karin Willemse is assistant professor of History.

Current projects 

Landscapes of memories - ’Nubian’ (im-)material heritage as constructed through narratives on belonging and loss

Funded by an Urgent Anthropology Fellowship of the Royal Anthropological Institute and the British Museum this anthropological/historical research (2014-2016) is conducted mainly in Abri Town, Nubia, North Sudan, 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.

An edited volume on the theme of ‘Nubian Living Heritage’ will be published as an edited volume Nubian living heritage: Past, present and future of Nubian culture, history and experiences 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. In addition, 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 (work title).

Results from the research, in particular visuals, will be 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.

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 withTine 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). 


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