History of Writing in Africa



At the crossroads of several disciplines (history, literature, archive science, palaeography etc.), book history has become the spearhead of cultural history worldwide. Introduced in South Africa through the works of Isabel Hofmeyr, it has since then led to the major renewal of regional and national history problematics, as found in the recent works of Archie Dick (The Hidden History of South Africa’s Book and Reading Cultures, University of Toronto Press, 2012), Andrew van der Vlies (Print, Text and Book Cultures in South Africa, Wits University Press, 2012) or, still, Adrien Delmas and Nigel Penn (Written Culture in a Colonial Context, UCT Press, 2012). The history of books and, more generally, writing in Africa, is confronted with new challenges which this programme intends to examine: the rediscovery of a long history, much earlier than the arrival of the Europeans on the continent, as proposed by Shamil Jeppie (The meaning of Timbuktu, HSRC Press, 2008) for example, or still going beyond the simplistic oral tradition paradigm which has been applied far too much on the fields and past of Africa. Far from wanting to structure a field characterised by diversity, the objective of this programme is, first of all, to explore and list research avenues, whether at the level of concepts (materiality, supports, writings, genres etc.) or themes (from the issues of non-Arab and non-Latin alphabets in Africa to the problems of digital broadcasting). Two main lines will be favoured in this regard: trans-nationality, offering a better chance to grasp the circulation of the written word than the generally adopted national framework; and secondly the African dimension, which is largely under-documented in the current literature, and yet which offers many perspectives, including very long-term ones.

Book History Seminar
Seminar on Philology
Winter School of the Zukunftphilologie Programme
Common declaration between France and South Africa on the written heritage of Mali