Dr Kate Skinner (BA Oxford, MA Paris I, PhD Birmingham)

Dr Kate Skinner

Department of African Studies and Anthropology
Senior Lecturer in the History of Africa and its Diasporas

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT


  • BA with first class honours in Modern History, University of Oxford
  • Maîtrise avec mention très bien in Modern History, Université de Paris I (Panthéon-La Sorbonne)
  • PhD African Studies, University of Birmingham


I gained my first degree in Modern History from Oxford University, and took a Maîtrise at the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-La Sorbonne). I joined DASA as a PhD student, writing my dissertation on the nature of African political activism on the Ghana-Togo border from the 1950s to present-day. After working as Africa Editor at a news analysis company, I returned to DASA to take up a Nuffield Foundation New Career Development Fellowship with Lynne Brydon. This project focussed on mass literacy, adult education, and citizenship in Ghana, from the colonial era through to the end of the twentieth century. I was appointed as a lecturer in 2007, teaching on the History of Africa and its Diasporas. I served as Head of Department from 2014-17, and I now participate in the Institute of Global Innovation’s Gender Equality stream.


My undergraduate teaching ranges from basic study skills for students in the humanities and social sciences, through wide-ranging introductions to African History and to Atlantic Slavery. I also offer a more specialised module on colonialism, nationalism and pan-Africanism in Ghana, and teach sessions on archival research and oral history to students writing undergraduate and MA dissertations.

I completed the University of Birmingham’s Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education in 2012 and became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. I won the 2012 Head of School’s Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Support to Student Learning for my research project on first-year students’ experiences of assessment and feedback. I published my findings in the journal Arts and Humanities in Higher Education.

Postgraduate supervision

My current PhD students:

  • Nathalie Raunet, working on traditional chiefs, state agents, and gatekeepers on the Ghana-Togo border
  • Chloe Bent, working on race, migration, and heritage in Treasure Beach, Jamaica 
  • Tessa Pijnaker, working on ICT, design, and public performance among technology entrepreneurs in Accra, Ghana   
  • Julia Fernando, based at Aston University and co-supervised through a doctoral training partnership arrangement, working on women’s entrepreneurship in Uganda 
  • Henry Brefo, working on modernisation, bureaucracy, and chieftaincy in Ghana  
  • Veera Tagliabue, working on migration and identity in South African higher education 
  • Sangu Delle, working on women tech entrepreneurs in Ghana

My former PhD students: 

  • Jovia Salifu - worked on women and microcredit in Ghana, and now a postdoctoral research assistant at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana 
  • Nimrita Rana - worked on Sindhis in contemporary Ghana 
  • Saima Nasar, now a lecturer at the University of Bristol, working on race, empire and diasporic communities, particularly East African Asians 
  • Kwame Kwarteng, worked on the environmental history of Ghana, and now Dean of Arts at the University of Cape Coast

Find out more - our PhD African Studies  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


My first two book projects were concerned with literacy, print cultures, and visions of nationhood in West Africa, with a particular focus on the republics of Ghana and Togo, and the borderlands between them (see publications list below). I am now working on new projects, which build on my longstanding interest in this region, explore the gendered dynamics of its political history, and highlight the particular challenges of nation-building and citizenship.

I am currently the PI on a project entitled ‘An Archive of Activism: gender and public history in postcolonial Ghana’. This project extends my earlier interest in political activism, but focuses on the organisations and strategies and strategies of gender activists and ‘political women’, particularly in the period between the mid 1960s and the early 1990s.

In 2019, I held a Leverhulme International Academic Fellowship, entitled ‘Learning, Leveraging and Living with the Law’. I was based at the University of Cape Coast (Ghana) for eight weeks, where I studied the evolution of legal pluralism over the twentieth century, and attempts to legislate on matters pertaining to the family in the post-Independence period.

Finally, I have been investigating West Africa’s first coup d'état, in which President Sylvanus Olympio of the Republic of Togo was assassinated. The story of this 1963 coup has often been told in terms of a military protest against austerity policies and ethno-regional bias. My research tells a different kind of story, about the challenges of small nations in the broader context of Cold War alignments and pan-African ambitions.



  • Writing the New Nation in a West African Borderland: Ablɔɖe Safui (the Key to Freedom) by Holiday Komedja(Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 2019). This is a joint work with Wilson Yayoh.
  • The Fruits of Freedom in British Togoland: Literacy, Politics, and Nationalism 1914-2014 (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Reviews of The Fruits of Freedom appeared in:

You can hear me me talk about the book at the New Books Network website. 

Journal articles and chapters in edited collections

  • Forthcoming. ‘Gendering Citizenship and Decolonising Justice in 1960s Ghana: revisiting the struggle for family law reform’
  • 2020 (in press) A' Different Kind of Union: An assassination, diplomatic recognition, and competing visions of African unity in Ghana-Togo relations (1956-63)’ in Frank Gerits and Matteo Grilli (eds), Visions of African Unity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
  • 2018 ‘Women, gender and “specifically historical” research on Ghana: a retrospective.’ Ghana Studies 21
  • 2018 ‘Brothers in the Bush: exile, refuge, and citizenship on the Ghana-Togo border, 1958-1966.’ In N. Carpenter and B. Lawrance (eds), Africans in Exile. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press
  • 2011 ‘Who Knew the Minds of the People? Specialist knowledge and developmentalist authoritarianism in postcolonial Ghana.’ Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 39/2, pp. 297-323
  • 2010 ‘Local Historians and Strangers with Big Eyes: the politics of Ewe history in Ghana and its global diaspora.’ History in Africa 37, pp. 125-58
  • 2010 ‘From Pentecostalism to Politics: mass literacy and community development in late colonial Northern Ghana.’ Paedagogica Historica 46/3, pp. 307-23
  • 2009 ‘ “It brought some kind of neatness to mankind”: mass literacy, community development and democracy in 1950s Asante.’  Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 79/4, pp. 479-99
  • 2009 ‘Modernity and Danger: the Boy Kumasenu and the work of the Gold Coast Film Unit.’ Ghana Studies 12 [co-authored with Peter Bloom], pp. 121-53
  • 2007 ‘Reading, Writing and Rallies: the politics of ‘freedom’ in southern British Togoland 1953-6.’ Journal of African History 48, pp. 123-47
  • 2007 ‘Agency and Analogy in African History: the contribution of extra-mural studies in Ghana.’ History in Africa 34, pp. 273-96

Teaching-related publications

  • (In progress) ‘Women and nationalism in Africa.’ Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of African History. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • 2014 ‘Bridging Gaps and Jumping Through Hoops: first-year History students’ expectations and perceptions of assessment and feedback in a research-intensive university.’ Arts and Humanities in Higher Education 13/14, pp. 359-76 
  • 2013 ‘Teaching the Research in Akan Gender History.’ History in Africa 40 (special anniversary issue), pp. s.31-5


Review essays and book reviews

I have reviewed other books for:

  • American Historical Review
  • Women’s Historical Review
  • English Historical Review
  • Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
  • Journal of Global Slavery
  • Journal of African History

View all publications in research portal


  • Modern history and current affairs of Ghana and Togo in West Africa;
  • political culture, literacy, and education (for both schoolchildren and adults);
  • women's issues, including reproductive health


  • Educational policy in Africa
  • Archives and heritage in Africa
  • End of empire / Decolonisation in Africa
  • Gender activism in Africa
  • Countries of specialism: Ghana and Togo