Printing across borders: African newspaper cultures (ASAUK2014)

Following AiW’s opening readings..



Karin Barber, Professor of African Cultural Anthropology, coordinated these panels on Newspaper Cultures, sponsored by Africa the Journal of the International African Institute. These sessions brought together scholars working on diverse publications: from Nigerian newspapers published in the 1890s, to the autobiography of a current newspaper magnate in Tanzania.  

Despite this diversity, there were strong connections between the papers, which raised questions about audiences (sometimes called ‘reading publics’), authority and identity.

International interconnections were prominent in the panel, reflecting research that has highlighted the globalising connections between newspaper printers and publishers.  James Brennan discussed his work on Swahili print cultures in the context of a wider project on international connections between publishers:


Nozomi Sawada’s research into 19C and e20C Nigerian newspapers is fascinating, her paper for ASAUK debated ideas of ‘Japan’


Rather than highlighting the role of the 1904/5 Sino-Japanese conflict, Sawada’s work spoke strongly to themes around identity creation in late 19 e20C West Africa, pointing to the ways in which ‘Yorubaness’ was developed and identified in relationship with other emerging alternative ideas of statehood (such as Japan).

Kelly Askew and Maria Suriano used the praise poetry widely published in Swahili newsprint to ask important questions of identity through this format



Using extensive quotation from amateur poets published for over a century in German, British and subsequently independent newspapers, it was evident that Tanzanian poets had used a pre-colonial format for diverse political purposes: from praising the Kaiser’s military power to valorising Nyerere’s legacy in the wake of postcolonial disappointment.

One of the fascinating aspects of conference attendance is hearing early, the research that is challenging accepted narratives of the historical past. So Brennan’s work on Zuhra, a paper with a chequered relationship with the ultimately successful nationalist party TANU:


Scholarship that has once focussed on newspapers’ contribution to national identity, is noticeably diversifying, incorporating ideas about linguistics, for example.



As Uta Reuster-Jahn’s paper demonstrated, this extended to an awareness of the narratives of an individual publisher and author



This was a narrative that for me, had echoes of the prosperity gospel. Reuster-Jahn made clear that for this highly successful publisher, apparent concerns over setting moral guidelines for society were not echoed in explicit photo-journalism with little or no concern for the right to privacy of individual members of the public, and particularly not celebrities.


These panels weren’t the only ones to consider historical newspapers at ASAUK2014


And, despite the upbeat tone of these developments in research, as Sawada noted, fragile archive sources and limited digitisation mean that gaps in the literature remain.

Full panel details:

Newspaper Cultures (Sponsored by Africa: journal of the International African Institute)

Nozomi Sawada
From the Russo-Japanese War to Setsubun: ‘Japan’ in Early Nigerian Newspapers, 1880-1920.

Uta Reuster-Jahn
‘True Memories of My Life’: The Auto-Biography of Eric Shigongo, Publisher of Swahili Tabloids.

Kelly Askew
Swahili Political Commentary in Verse: From Kaisar to King to Rais.

Swahili Newspaper Cultures (Sponsored by Africa: Journal of the International Afri- can Institute)

James Brennan
Artisan Newspapers in the Age of Nationalism: R. M. Plantan’s Zuhra in Late Colonial Tanganyika, 1947-1960.

Emma Hunter
Komkya, District Newspapers and Swahili-Language Print Culture in Late Colonial Tanganyika.

Maria Suriano Newspaper Poetry: A Forum for Debate and a Tool for Self-Making and Community-Creation in Tanganyika.


For the full programme, visit the ASAUK site


Reflecting the wide range of panels held over three days, this is just the first of a series of posts reporting on ASAUK2014 @ Africa in Words over the coming weeks.

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