Marie Grace Brown, a cultural historian on the modern Middle East and an assistant professor from KU, spoke about women in Northern Sudan during the 20th century last Wednesday. She also discussed how in Northern Sudan, which was under British imperial rule, women made use of movement and clothing to assert their own place in the world.
The presentation was part of a series of lectures hosted by Emporia State for Women’s History month.
Brown was chosen for the lecture because Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate women, according to Heidi Hamilton, director of ethnic and gender studies.
“It’s a time when we reflect on women’s contributions and celebrate women’s accomplishments,” Hamilton said.
During the lecture, Brown focused on what she called“independent theories of the body.” One is a well-known theory in the field and the other is her very own theory.
“The first is well accepted by scholars and posits that empire was an intimate bodily experience,” Brown said. “That imperial policies dictated which bodies were clean and civilized, which were dirty and disorderly.”
Her second theory, which is Brown’s own, is that the body is a way for people to assert their position.
“It holds that the body was not just a subject of state power but a site of knowledge production,” said Brown. “A powerful and fluid means of marking one’s position in the wider world.”
Her talk went on to discuss midwives in Northern Sudan and how they didn’t act in a way that wasn’t typically considered appropriate.
According to Brown, midwives would often be out alone and make runs to houses that required their service at any hour of the night.
Their uniforms, which identified them as midwives, were important in allowing them to do so, Brown said.
“The point I want to make here is that uniforms and body movements marked a new social mobility for women,” Brown said. “Educated and licensed by the government MTS (Midwifery Training School) midwives held a previously unimagined relationship with the imperial state.”
She also discussed the Sudanese tobe, a rectangle bolt of fabric worn by women, and the way they named these in ways that made political statements. She also took time to mention the way changes in the way midwives helped patients showed influences from the imperial rule at the time.
Gerald Mpofu, senior information systems major, said that the lecture helped him understand how different cultures evolved.
“I learned something new today,” said Gerald Mpofu, senior Information Systems major. “I think it’s just pretty insightful. You learn different stuff about other cultures and how they evolved over time. “