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Derek R. Peterson, Emma Hunter and Stephanie Newell, African Print Cultures: newspapers and their publics in the twentieth century. Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press (hb US$95 – 978 0 472 07317 7; pb US$34.95 – 978 0 472 05317 9). 2016, 460 pp.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2018

Kate Skinner*
Affiliation:
University of Birminghamk.a.skinner@bham.ac.uk
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Abstract

Type
Reviews
Information
Africa , Volume 88 , Issue 4 , November 2018 , pp. 886 - 888
Copyright
Copyright © International African Institute 2018 

For Emma Hunter and Derek Peterson, the purpose of this volume is to claim ‘African newspapers as subjects of historical study’ (p. 1) and go beyond conventional treatments of newspapers as banks of empirical data on people, places and events, and as barometers of public opinion. Instead, the volume reflects intensively and comparatively on the emergence of regional newsprint cultures. It outlines the dynamic relationship between the material conditions in which newspapers were produced and disseminated, and the ways in which contents were created, selected, excerpted or juxtaposed on the printed page. Attention to these dynamics will challenge any lingering assumption that newspapers arrived in twentieth-century Africa as ready-made forms and were simply filled up with local content to meet a growing demand from literate school leavers. In order for newspapers to be produced at all, somebody had to care enough to embark on a precarious financial endeavour; in order to sustain production, editors had to find novel ways to entice and mobilize potential customers into new reading publics. The introduction therefore establishes the volume's four major themes: networks, circulation and sociability; experiments with genre; publics; and obituary, biography and self-archiving.

Perhaps inevitably, while the introduction identifies broad differences between anglophone and francophone Africa, and between the East and West African colonies of the British empire, the thirteen chapters serve to highlight the diversity of the press in twentieth-century Africa. This establishes a creative tension between the editors’ emphasis on networks and circulation, and the insistence of some contributors on local specificities. Leslie James demonstrates how the juxtaposition of political reports from British West Africa, the West Indies and London drew readers into a transatlantic anti-imperial framework (1935–50). David Pratten, on the other hand, notes the prominence of ‘creole printmen’ along West Africa's Atlantic coastline, and acknowledges their participation in ‘communicative circuits of empire’ (p. 95, referring to the work of Alan Lester). But ultimately his account of the rise and fall of the Nigerian Eastern Mail points to the historically contingent concerns of readers, and exemplifies the ‘provinciality of these creole newspapers’ (p. 77). Pratten concludes that ‘each site within these imperial networks had its own possibilities and conditions of knowledge’ (p. 95, referring to Edward Said).

This theme of ‘provinciality’ is developed by Oluwatoyin Babatunde Oduntan, whose chapter on Osumare Egba (1935–37) elaborates on the marginality of Abeokuta's literati, their limited access to Atlantic connections, and the ways in which their claims to advance modernity were entangled within factional struggles. Oduntan argues that newspapers that were ‘published in the provinces’ were influenced by ‘the prestige and effectiveness of those published in the colonial metropolis’, but they referenced ‘indigenous conversations and cultural productions peculiar to their contexts’ (p. 307).

This tension between ‘provinciality’ and participation in larger circuits provides a useful vantage point from which to explore the language question. It is tempting to assume that ethnic nationalism was represented in and stimulated by local-language newspapers, but a more complex picture is sketched in the chapters by Emma Hunter, Duncan Omanga, Karin Barber and Rebecca Jones. In her chapter on a late colonial Tanzanian newspaper, Hunter mobilizes Michael Warner's argument that publics are constituted through texts, and she sets out how this process works via ‘hidden rules’ (p. 295) of inclusion and exclusion. Anyone literate in Swahili could become a reader of the newspaper Komkya, but particular types of content were explicitly addressed to the WaChagga, thereby excluding others. Komkya thus summoned a public that was at once ‘bound and unbound, unitary and segmented’ (p. 285). While Duncan Omanga's chapter has a more contemporary focus, he too emphasizes the constitutive role of newspapers in multilingual contexts, showing how ‘street parliaments’ in Eldoret convene to debate – often in the local language – the events and issues covered in Kenya's national dailies.

Barber teases out a contrast between different newspapers in 1920s Lagos. English-language newspapers addressed their small, elite readerships in an impersonal style geared towards an impression of objectivity and impartiality. The Yoruba-language newspapers, envisaging their potential readers as more numerous and diverse, sought to include and entice them through personalized modes of address and creative experiments in epistolary, confessional and fictional genres. Jones similarly points to the elasticity with which Yoruba-language writers envisaged their readerships. Ultimately, however, her analysis focuses on ‘the exuberant sociability’ (p. 104) of Yoruba travel writers, whose travelogues ‘depict their personal and professional networks spreading across Nigerian space’ (p. 110).

In the final chapters, Hlonipha Mokoena and Stephanie Newell develop these intriguing insights into ‘the specificity of printed subjectivities’ (p. 390). Mokoena explains how the Zulu author and printer Magema Fuze used writing ‘to ensure his posterity’ (p. 377), while Newell explores ‘various forms of printed memorialization’ in colonial West Africa, showing how they ‘helped to produce a person's life story, and thus actively contributed to the genre of biography’ (p. 414). The numerous images in this chapter reveal the visual impact of memorializing techniques. Similarly, Kelly Askew's chapter on ‘Everyday poetry’ in Swahili newspapers and that of Olubukola Gbadegesin on Yoruba photoplays are strengthened by the inclusion of images, allowing readers to appreciate the creative, innovative and experimental elements of newspapers.

While it is not possible here to highlight the specific merits of each individual chapter, all are based on intensive engagement with, and sophisticated interpretations of, African newspapers. The volume as a whole will be generative of new empirical and theoretical research, adding an important historical dimension to the explosion of scholarship on contemporary African media.

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Derek R. Peterson, Emma Hunter and Stephanie Newell, African Print Cultures: newspapers and their publics in the twentieth century. Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press (hb US$95 – 978 0 472 07317 7; pb US$34.95 – 978 0 472 05317 9). 2016, 460 pp.
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Derek R. Peterson, Emma Hunter and Stephanie Newell, African Print Cultures: newspapers and their publics in the twentieth century. Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press (hb US$95 – 978 0 472 07317 7; pb US$34.95 – 978 0 472 05317 9). 2016, 460 pp.
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Derek R. Peterson, Emma Hunter and Stephanie Newell, African Print Cultures: newspapers and their publics in the twentieth century. Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press (hb US$95 – 978 0 472 07317 7; pb US$34.95 – 978 0 472 05317 9). 2016, 460 pp.
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