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Mover and Shaker: Grace Mary Crowfoot, Intimate Conversations, and Sudanese History

Heather J. Sharkey
p. 187-196


The Rationale for This Study
At the fourth annual conference of African studies in France (4èmes Rencontres des Études Africaines en France [REAF]), which revolved around the broad theme of “Cosmopolitical Africas” (Afriques cosmopolitiques), several panellists considered “traces of intimacy” in African history regarding individuals and their modes of oral, literary, and artistic expression. Drawing inspiration from many scholars, including Stoler (2002), who wrote about “cross-racial” relationships in Southeast Asian colonial systems,Goffman (1959), whose sociological analysis of face-to-face “interaction rituals” is now a classic, and more, their aim was to consider close, and often idiosyncratic, exchanges –intimate encounters–in making history. I presented this study on Sudan at this conference and in this context, focusing on Grace Mary Crowfoot, a British polymath and superwoman of her era, and assessing the impact of her informal interactions with Sudanese men and women during the early twentieth century. As I tell it here, her story forms part of a collection of short biographical studies I have begun writing about figures whose lives in Sudan and Egypt transcended national and regional boundaries while producing global entanglements.

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Introducing Grace Mary Crowfoot and Making a Case for Intimate Exchanges
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Introducing Grace Mary Crowfoot and Making a Case for Intimate Exchanges

Grace Mary Crowfoot (1877-1957) –known as Molly to her friends –was a botanist, archaeologist, textile historian, and trained midwife. She was also the mother of four daughters, one of whom, a fellow archaeologist, published a short online biography in 2004 attesting to her accomplishments (E. Crowfoot 2004). During the early twentieth century, Grace Mary Crowfoot lived in Sudan and Egypt, and later in Palestine, where she published many articles and books, including, for example, a botanical study of the flowering plants of northern and central Sudan (Crowfoot1928), and an analysis of hand-spinning in Egypt and Sudan from ancient to modern times (Crowfoot 1931). To most historians of modern north-east African history, her works are likely to sound obscure simply because natural history (in this case, botany) and material culture (in this case, vis-à-vis textiles), have not been central concerns in the field. By...

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Heather J. Sharkey, « Mover and Shaker: Grace Mary Crowfoot, Intimate Conversations, and Sudanese History », Égypte/Monde arabe,Troisième série, 14 | 2016, mis en ligne le 21 octobre 2018, consulté le 22 janvier 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ema.3606

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Heather J. Sharkey

Heather J. Sharkey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. She holds degrees from Yale (BA), Durham(MPhil), and Princeton (PhD). She previously taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Trinity College (Connecticut). She was a Visiting Professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris in 2012-13. Her books include Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (University of California Press, 2003); American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire (Princeton University Press, 2008); and A History of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press).

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