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Dr Rhian Elinor Keyse

  • Overview



    Dr Rhian Keyse is a postdoctoral researcher on the SHaME project. She is a social and cultural historian of gender in modern Africa. Her doctoral research examined international, imperial, and local responses to forced and early marriage in British colonial Africa. Her current project examines the histories of medico-legal responses to sexual violence in (post)colonial Anglophone Africa, c.1920-1985, with a particular focus on Ghana and Kenya. Prior to joining the project, Rhian worked in the gender-based violence sector, most recently providing trauma support to homeless women with experiences of sexual violence.


    • PhD, University of Exeter, 2020
    • MSc African Studies, University of Oxford
    • BA (Hons) History, University of Cambridge

    Administrative responsibilities

    • Co-convenor, History, Classics and Anthropology seminar series

    Honours and awards

    • British Research Council Fellow, Library of Congress, AHRC/Library of Congress, July 2015
    • Global Humanitarian Research Academy Fellow, Global Humanitarian Research Academy, July 2016
    • Public Engagement Award for Public Empowerment, Birkbeck, University of London, April 2022
  • Research


    Research interests

    • Sexual violence
    • African history
    • Gender history
    • Histories of violence
    • Medical humanities
    • Histories of childhood
    • Governmentality, biopolitics, and knowledge

    Research overview

    My current research examines the evolution of (post)colonial and international medico-legal responses to rape and sexual violence in Anglophone Africa, c. 1920-1985. Sexual violence in African countries is an important area of international, national, and local concern, with issues such as wartime rape, child marriages, and female genital cutting capturing public, policy, and academic attention. However, this attention has not been well-historicised. Current popular debates around sexual violence in Africa often fall back on ahistorical notions of ‘tradition’ or ‘culture’, which erases local specificities and ignores the historical trajectory of such concerns. This project places these questions within the broader imperial and international frame and examines them across Anglophone Africa as a whole, with focused case studies on Kenya and Ghana. Kenya, as a settler colony, allows the examination of important broader questions such as racial dynamics, whilst in Ghana, legal pluralism saw the involvement of African lawyers and juries far earlier than in other colonies, allowing more access to African perspectives than elsewhere.

    Combining sociocultural, legal, and medical historical approaches to sexual violence in Africa, the project has three core aims: to understand how international, colonial and postcolonial legal, medical, and psychiatric structures have impacted on African victims and survivors of sexual violence; to recover the experiences of these complainants as they navigated medico-legal structures, as well as the role of medical personnel in identifying and prosecuting sexual violence; and to examine how shifts in colonial governance, ideas of anti-colonialism, development, and universal rights, as well as changing medical discourses relating to physical and psychological harms, influenced debates around, and responses to, sexual violence in British African colonies and the independent states that emerged after decolonization. The project’s multi-level and comparative approach will provide a unique perspective on debates around, and responses to, sexual violence in (post)colonial Africa.

    Research clusters and groups

    • Mobility, migration & globality
    • Conflict and violence
    • Difference and inequality
    • Mind and body