African Diaspora Newspapers & Periodicals: A Pan-European Phenomenon

Date 2005/7/30 22:35:02 | Topic: Representing Black European History

Africans are present in nearly every country in the world. From the nineteenth century onwards, Africans in the diaspora have produced thousands of newspapers and periodicals. This is especially true for Europe, where the second largest number of titles have appeared after North America. Unfortunately this potentially valuable resource is unavailable to of scholars and others because of there is no comprehensive international documentation strategy for the collection, preservation, and access to these publications.

There has been a rapidly developing interest in transnational history, especially writing on diasporic topics. Much of the emphasis has been on east-west diaspora - Caribbean to North America - with much less done on south-north work. This conference, and the Diaspora Newspapers and Periodicals Project, have the potential to address all aspects of Africans in the diaspora. Whether it is popular works such as Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghosts or academic work such as is published in Contours (Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora), CAAR's FORECAAST series, or the University of Illinois
Press's Blacks in the New World series. The link between documentary materials to ongoing historical Writing and other scholarship will grow

As early as 1991, when the Project Director was the Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the British Library, the potential of African publishing in Europe was apparent, as was the less than thorough documentation strategies being pursued. Today, the goal of the African Diaspora Press Project is to begin to address this vast task. The Project will follow the model developed by AFRICAN-AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS AND PERIODICALS: A NATIONAL BIBLIOGRAPHY. In order to begin to cover the African Diaspora beyond North America which is covered in the above volume, the Project is actively seeking scholars in every country who can help to identify the likely titles and related materials that will help to contribute to an international, comparative history of Africans in the diaspora. The Project is in its infancy but over the 10-15 years that such an effort may take, hopes to provide a valuable service to the scholarly community and beyond.

Beginning in the early nineteenth century, Africans living in Europe have sought to speak for themselves through print. Robert Wedderburn, a
former Jamaican slave, published "Forlorn Hope, or A Call to the Supine, to Rouse from Indolence and Assert Public Rights", an anti-slavery newspaper, in 1917. Wedderburn turned to publishing shortly after gaining his freedom and soon migrated to Britain, where he was tried for sedition in 1820 when he questioned Britain's policy on slavery. Martin Delany, an American active in Liberia, produced "African Times", also in London, during this period. Throughout the nineteenth Britain saw a significant number of serial publications come and go, many with roots in the abolitionist and later in the missionary movements.

Early in the twentieth century, Africans began to produce sophisticated newspapers that reflected an international understanding of the black experience. In 1901 Henry Sylvester Williams, one of the founders of the Pan-African movement, published "Pan-African". As he noted in the first issue, the new title was "designed to spread information concerning the interests of the African and his descendants in the British Empire" and to "be the mouthpiece of the millions of Africans and their descendants." Declaring that 'little or nothing is known of the educated British Negro," the editorial in the first issue expressed the conviction "that no other but a Negro can represent the Negro."

"The African Times and Orient Review", founded by Duse Mohammed Ali in 1912, was interested in both "Pan-Africanism and Pan-Asianism". Published until 1918, Ali's publication demonstrated in each issue that a press of their own was an essential precondition for freedom. These earlier British anecdotes are offered as evidence of the central
role the press plays in the work of historians and others in understanding Africans in European societies. Without the press, scholars are constrained in the approaches they take, with the result that there appears to be a greater emphasis on cultural production than social history. The existence of an extensive bibliography of newspapers and periodicals produced by Africans from Ireland to Russia and Sweden to Greece would enable black European studies to demonstrate its own history as distinct from that of the U.S. Such a resource would also enable scholars to show the differences between the many African societies in Europe in terms that go beyond the colonial framework's of language, religion and other imported categories.

Today's African communities in Europe produce a wide variety of periodicals and newspapers, from newsprint weeklies to glossy dailies in most of the major languages. The nearly 500 titles the Project has identified and collected to date represent the largest such collection, but still only a starting point for the comprehensive effort that is needed. In Germany, some of the titles already identified include:

Armachin Kits1kutir2 (Hamersheim), Afrika-Post (Köln), African Courier (Speyer), Africa Live (Bonn), Wazobia (Duseldofg), Ra'iy (Rodgau), Ma'bal (Darmstadt), and Zemenawit (Berlin). Whether the publication takes the form of glossy monthlies aimed at middle-to-upper class Africans resident in Europe or slight newsletters, the press produced by Africans in the diaspora reflects their condition as migrants, between
the culture of origin and their new homes. As the debate over migration grows louder throughout Europe, these publications are fundamental to helping white Europeans understand Africans who make their home among them.

The Project Director has given papers on the work (1995 Collegium for African American Research in Tenerife; 2000 Seminar on the Anthropology of Print, Goethe University, Mainz) where he found interested colleagues from a wide variety of disciplines whose questions and comments greatly enriched the project. The opportunity to participate in a conference of similarly interested colleagues would be most valuable. All of the workshops would be valuable but I think I might make more of a contribution to 1, 2, and 5. The most thoughtful series of questions clearly set the intellectually ambitious tone for this meeting and the press is clearly key to addressing many of the points. For example, the clearest understanding I have of the position of Africans in Europe in terlms of how they understand themselves is found in the editorials, articles and advertisements in their own publications. There you will find commentary on the politics of Africa as well as extensive coverage of African culture, including leading musicians and other performers, who also tour Europe. Africans are between two cultures and making a new kind of life.

This article comes from BEST - Black European Studies -

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