Guest lecture: Girling African History and Historicizing Girlhoods through Language Data in East and Central Africa



On Friday May 26, 2023, at 11am CET, Prof. Dr. Catherine Cymone Fourshey (Bucknell University) talks at UGent on "Girling African History and Historicizing Girlhoods through Language Data in East and Central Africa". The event is co-organized by BantUGent and the Economies, Comparisons, Connections research group.

Though they have been drivers of social and historical change and been important sources of knowledge, girls in Africa have rarely been the focus of historical scholarship. African girls and their status as young people tend to be assessed flatly as perpetual and complicit victims (Katshunga 2019: 55). This elision cuts off possibilities and make girls in Africa simultaneously scapegoats for social problems (Oduro et al. 2012), targets of pity and the “salvationist gaze” (George 2014: 113), and dependents on benevolence from elders, government representatives, and development institutions. It is both this gap in the scholarship and the harm created by such views of African girls in the present that shape the historical questions raised in this paper. Through an examination of East and Central African language evidence relevant to generation, girlhood, and family, this paper makes claims about the historical possibilities around girlhood in ancient times as means of reconsidering the social status and meaning of girlhoods in more recent eras. There will be opportunities for discussion of comparative historical linguistics and uncovering and representing girls’ voices in written historical records to better understand their roles in family and across generations. How might language data help to ensure girls’ contributions are represented in histories at least as well as male youths’ experiences are.


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