Dr Emily Bridger
Lecturer in Global and Imperial History
I am a social and cultural historian of modern South Africa, with particular research interests in histories of gender, youth, violence, and memory during the apartheid and post-apartheid periods. My recently completed doctoral research explored the involvement of female children and youth in South Africa’s liberation struggle. Through oral history interviews and archival research, it challenged male-dominated accounts of the liberation struggle, and provided new analysis of why female students and youth joined the liberation struggle, the roles they played, and how they narrate and make sense of their former activism in the post-apartheid period.
I am currently preparing a monograph based on my doctoral research, while beginning a new project which aims to historicise women's understandings of and responses to sexual violence across the apartheid and post-apartheid periods. My work predominantly uses oral history interviews to access voices excluded from South Africa’s archives, and to understand the relationship between the past and the present, and the personal and collective. My previous research has appeared in Gender & History, Journal of World History and the Journal of Southern African Studies.
My primary research interests are in histories of gender, violence, and memory in twentieth century South Africa. My current monograph project, South Africa’s Female Comrades: Political Girlhood and the Struggle against Apartheid is the first historical study of African female children and youth during the latter years of the apartheid state, and the first extensive exploration of ‘female comrades’ – girls and young women who joined political organisations, engaged in protest, and took up arms against the apartheid state and its allies. Through oral history interviews and archival research, it explores why female students and youth joined the liberation struggle, the roles they played, and how they narrate and make sense of their former activism. It demonstrates that girls and young women were decisive actors in the liberation struggle, and were not demobilised from politics as the struggle grew increasingly confrontational and violent in the mid-1980s as previous historians have argued. Primarily a work of oral history, the monography is not only concerned with what young female activists did, but equally with how they reconstruct their pasts, relate their personal experiences to collective histories of the struggle, and insert themselves into a historical narrative from which they have been excluded.
I am also engaged in a new research project exploring the history of sexual violence in South Africa across the apartheid and post-apartheid periods, drawing predominantly on urban African women's understandings, experiences of and responses to rape and abuse.
My wider research interests include:
- African girlhood
- Sexual violence
- History of emotions
- Political violence and liberation movements
- Memory and oral history
I am happy to supervise MA or PhD students working on:
- African history (particularly South or Southern Africa)
- Gender history (particularly colonial/global; or in relation to violence, activism, or generation)
- Oral history and/or memory
- Histories of sexual or political violence (particularly African or colonial/global)
- Histories of childhood and youth
- History of emotions
I completed my undergraduate degree in History and International Development at Dalhousie University in Canada, before reading for a MSc in African Studies at the University of Oxford in 2012. In 2013, I began my doctoral research here at Exeter under the supervision of Dr Stacey Hynd, during which I spent a year as a visiting research fellow in Johannesburg at the University of the Witwatersrand. After completing my PhD thesis in 2016, I taught at both Exeter and Plymouth University for a year before beginning my current post as Lecturer in Global and Imperial History in 2017.