African Print Culture Network
Newspapers and print culture are an important emerging theme in African Studies, shedding light on the constitution of new publics, new genres and new forms of political and social expression and affiliation. This project aims to develop a network of scholars researching on newspapers in East and West Africa. Because the subject matter itself took the form of a network of linked and interactive textual sites (newspapers which culled material from each other, argued with each other, and provided an open forum for cross-cutting debate between contributors), the engagement of a range of specialists working on different newspapers, regions and languages is a particularly effective research strategy: no single scholar could possibly grasp the whole field, yet no part of the field is fully comprehensible without awareness of its interactions, linkages, and parallels with other parts.
The network’s activities have been built around a programme of workshop meetings in which primary material has been circulated and analysed, and methodologies for its study have been developed.
Newspapers provide a substantial and unique resource for scholars researching East and West Africa's cultural and political history, and several major studies have been published on the history of the press in particular African countries. Until recently, however, the sheer vitality of African newspapers in the colonial and post-colonial periods has tended to result in their use primarily as a source of information on African opinion. Little attention has been paid to the ways in which newspapers helped to produce diverse political identities, the ways in which literate Africans were able to experiment with different forms of public address and new genres of writing, and the ways in which the press convened new kinds of public through the medium of print.
The proposed network seeks to highlight the agency of English- and African-language newspapers in political and cultural life, attending to the textual form as well as the content. The extensive historical remit of this network (from 1830 to the present day) enables the group to explore not only the diversity and heterogeneity of the African press, but also the significant transformations that specific local presses underwent during European colonial expansion and culminates in the liberalisation of the media at the return to multi-party democracy during the 1990s. The network will make a potentially ground-breaking contribution to the social history of West and Eastern Africa, highlighting in detail for the first time the actual practices of newspaper production at different regional sites and historical junctures, while also developing a set of methodologies and theories of wider relevance to social historians and literary scholars.
The network brings together a multi-disciplinary group of scholars (from anthropology, history and literary studies) with expertise in the history of West and Eastern African print cultures.
Workshops were held in Oxford in December 2011 and April 2012 with financial support from the University of Michigan and the John Fell Fund. The network also convened a panel at the September 2012 ASAUK conference in Leeds and a two-day workshop at Michigan University in December 2012.
The culmination of our activities was the 2013 Cadbury Conference held at the University of Birmingham in May 2013.
Steering committee members:
Professor Kelly Askew – University of Michigan (Anthropology). Swahili-language print culture in Tanzania.
Professor Karin Barber – University of Birmingham (Anthropology). Yoruba-language print culture in Western Nigeria.
Professor Stephanie Newell – University of Sussex (Literature). English-language print culture in Ghana.
Professor Derek Peterson – University of Michigan (History). Luganda- and Kikuyu-language print culture in Kenya and Uganda.
Dr David Pratten – University of Oxford (Anthropology). English-language print culture in eastern Nigeria.
Dr Kate Skinner – University of Birmingham (History). Ewe-language print culture in Togo/Ghana.