- African Print Cultures: Newspapers and their Publics in the Twentieth Century ed. by Derek R. Peterson, Emma Hunter, and Stephanie Newell
African Print Cultures, edited by Derek Peterson, Emma Hunter, and Stephanie Newell, explores different modalities of print and the cultures they created in [End Page 538] twentieth century Africa. This new collection of fifteen essays, including an introduction and afterword, is a valuable addition to the burgeoning corpus of recent work on African intellectual history and public discourse. By exploring connections in African media and public culture across the continent, oceans, and the transition from colonial rule to independence, African Print Cultures takes a fresh look at African media and makes a significant departure from, and contribution to, African media history and historiography.
In contrast to the standard scholarly approach to newspapers as vehicles for conveying historical data and providing insight into popular opinion, Peterson, Hunter, and Newell argue that newspapers and print media must be analyzed as objects of historical study in their own right. The editors and their contributors investigate papers and print from the premise that these materials embodied and belonged to larger, multi-sited networks of exchange, in which ideas, information, genres, stories, and even whole articles circulated and were reworked. This approach transcends the limitations of standard African media histories which tend to be locally or nationally bound. Instead, African Print Cultures illuminates trans-continental, transnational, and trans-temporal matrices of intellectual, cultural, and political interchange. By interrogating print media as historical subjects enmeshed in webs of power and knowledge, this collection pushes beyond classic paradigms such as Anderson’s imagined communities and binaries of African agency and resistance. The authors attend to the creative work and initiative of African editors in producing “news,” creating real and imagined interest groups, and setting the tempo of politics. At the same time, they emphasize and explore how African publics engaged with print media and shaped the political constituencies editors sought to convene. African print cultures and their publics consequently assumed lives of their own. Examining the wide variety of material in African papers, especially in the first half of the twentieth century, demonstrates how global media flows became integrated into local vernaculars which allowed for the enlargement of the popular political arena. Papers thus transformed from weapons of anti-colonial protest and vehicles for African nationalist leaders to build political constituencies into serious threats to those very same leaders (who were often newspapermen) in the post-colonial era.
African Print Cultures consists of fifteen chapters focusing primarily on West and East Africa. Selections are thematically organized into four sections illustrating the editors’ central arguments. Part I—“African Newspaper Networks”—explores connections among local, continental, and international newspapers and political activists in colonial West Africa. By examining how African editors translated global events and political movements, particularly Pan-Africanism, into local contexts, these chapters illuminate the creation and constituency of multiple but interconnected black identities and publics that linked multiple sites and figures of the Pan-Africanist diaspora across time and space in the first half of the twentieth century. Part II—“Experiments with Genre”— emphasizes editors’ attempts to create, recruit, and instruct the public audiences they imagined for their papers. The unifying argument of this section, which focuses on Yoruba and Tanzanian publications across the century, is that print media served as a low-stakes experimental space where editors and authors could try out different modes of genre, style, story, and voice, ultimately leading to the flowering of important new African literary traditions. As Karin Barber points out, a close reading of the “entertainment” content of African papers challenges [End Page 539] teleological nationalist narratives which have co-opted press history as an instrument of political resistance by illustrating how the political possibilities Africans imagined were intimately tied to local social, cultural, religious, and literary milieus. Part III—“Newspapers and Their Publics”—asks how newspapers “cajoled new kinds of communities into being” by exploring how print contributed to...