Tag Archives: African Studies

Toni Morrison and Africa

Toni Morrison (oprahmag.com)
On August 5, 2019, a great tree fell in the forest of my imagination. Toni Morrison, the great African American writer and international humanist, had died.  I could not ignore the sadness.  I was personally moved to read,
re-read, and to become more familiar with Morrison’s novels and non-fiction writing, including her books for children, co-authored with her son Slade Morrison, to learn more about her work with the Western musical forms of opera and classical art songs, her interests in the visual arts, film, and politics, as well as the fruit of her labors as an editor and advocate for African authors and other humanist writers around the world (1975 and 2009).  In the wake of Morrison’s passing, I began conducting a survey of open access interviews and performances of Morrison, as well as significant commentaries on her life and legacy.  As the subject librarian for African Studies at Columbia University, I looked to the books I knew, to the Internet, and to the library holdings at Columbia and elsewhere to cope with my sense of emptiness.  As an Africa-centered reader, I have settled on two topics of investigation:
first, the ways in which scholars have analyzed Morrison’s invocation of an imagined “Africa” and the African heritage among African Americans through her characters and stories ; and, second, her relationships with authors from the African continent.

I offer here the first part of my report.

Out on the Internet, there’s a wide array of freely accessible Toni Morrison performances, analysis, interviews, readings, and testimonies on Morrison’s life and her works.  Aside from the images and words of Morrison herself, particularly useful for the research scholar are the “Bibliography” project of The Toni Morrison Society (Atlanta, Georgia), covering the period 2000-2011, and the Oxford Research Encyclopedia biographical entry on  “Toni Morrison”  by Kristine Yohe (2019).

For those with access to Columbia’s library collections, there are currently in the library catalog: 149 entries for Morrison-authored works -and- 261 entries for works about Morrison.  Using Columbia’s access to MLA International Bibliography and other relevant indexes in the EBSCOhost Research Databases, the reader can find almost 5000 entries on the subject of Toni Morrison for publications since 1968, including articles, books, book chapters, book reviews, and theses. Two useful, recently published, reference sources available at Columbia are:
“Toni Morrison” by Justine Tally (2017) in Oxford Bibliographies Online and Tessa Roynon’s The Cambridge Introduction to Toni Morrison (2013) in print or online.  It so happens that Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library is also the home of the archives of Random House, the publishing company where Toni Morrison worked as an editor from 1965 to 1983.  The finding aid indicates that the collection includes Toni Morrison’s editorial files for the period 1974 to 1983.  However, the bulk of the Morrison archive is to be found in the Toni Morrison Papers collection held at Princeton University, where Morrison actively taught on the faculty from 1989 to 2006.

With regard to my first research topic on the “African heritage” of African American culture depicted in Toni Morrison’s novels, especially Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise, the reader might start with the following: La Vinia Delois Jennings’ Toni Morrison and the Idea of Africa (2008) ;  K. Zauditu-Selassie’s African Spiritual Traditions in the Novels of Toni Morrison (2009) in print or e-book ; Christopher N. Okonkwo’s  A Spirit of Dialogue: Incarnations of Ogbanje, the born-to-die, in African American Literature (2008)  ; and, Therese  E. Higgins’ Religiosity, Cosmology, and Folklore: The African Influence in the Novels of Toni Morrison (2001) in print or e-book.  Two seminal articles by Gay Wilentz on this matter are critically important: “Civilization underneath: African heritage as cultural discourse in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon,” which first appeared in the journal African American Review in 1992 (print or online) and republished in the 2003 book Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon : a casebook, edited by Jan Furman; and, “An African-Based Reading of Sula,” in Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison, edited by Nellie Y. McKay and Kathryn Earle (1997).  In addition, an important early contribution on the discourse is Vashti Crutcher Lewis’ oft-cited 1987 Phylon article: “African Tradition in Toni Morrison’s ‘Sula’.”

These works argue that a major feature of Morrison’s fiction is her use of surviving Africanisms in African American culture, such as the belief in the importance of ancestors, ancestral spirits, healers, conjurers or witches, priests or priestesses, and diviners or soothsayers.  Many scholars argue that such beliefs and the rituals associated with them among African Americans have their roots in the African traditional cosmologies produced in West-Central Africa and in societies near the Bights of Benin and Biafra in West Africa, those areas from where more than half of the African diaspora in the Americas has its origins (Slave Voyages, 2019).  Anthropologists and historians have identified these areas as the historic kingdoms of Kongo and Ndongo in present-day Angola, West-Central Africa, the kingdom and empire of Dahomey in present-day Benin, the Igbo and the Yoruba in present-day Nigeria, West Africa.  So, for example, Jennings argues that in several of her novels Morrison uses the Kongo Yowa (cross-in-a-circle), ancestors–living elders and the dead, witches (bandoki, in Kikongo), healers (banganga, in Kikongo), and various aspects of Dahomean Vodun (such as loas and orixas). Okonkwo focuses more on the Igbo and Yoruba concepts of the spirit child (ogbanje or abiku) in Morrison’s fiction.

With regard to the often cited “flying Africans” in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Morrison herself and other scholars agree that she is explicitly drawing upon a documented aspect of African American folklore handed down by several generations of African slaves and their descendants in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. The myth refers to newly enslaved Africans who upon arriving in coastal South Carolina or Georgia flew back to Africa rather than live in slavery in America. See for example, the 1940 publication of the Georgia Writers’ Project, Drums and shadows: survival studies among the Georgia coastal Negroes, (reprinted in 1986).

On my second topic, we must rely on what Morrison has said in interviews and in public appearances. In September 2000, she described her first encounters with African literature.  These comments were part of a brief presentation she gave in honor of the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, published in Morrison’s last book, The Source of Self-Regard (2019):

“In 1965, I began reading African literature, devouring it actually. It was a literature previously  unavailable to me, but by then I had discovered a New York bookstore called Africa House, which offered among other things back issues of Transition (print or online), Black Orpheus (print or online), and works by a host of African writers from all over the continent.  Amos Tutuola,   Ayi Kwei Armah, Ezekiel Mphahlele, James Ngugi [Ngugi wa Thiong’o], Bessie Head, Christina Ama Ata Aidoo, Mongo Beti, Leopold Senghor, Camara Laye, Ousmane Sembene, Wole Soyinka, John Pepper Clark: the jolt these writers gave me was explosive. The confirmation that African literature was not limited to Doris Lessing and Joseph Conrad was so stunning it led me to secure the aid of two academics who could help me anthologize this literature. At that time African literature was not a subject to be taught in American schools. Even in so-called world literature courses it had no reputation and no presence. But I was determined to funnel the delight, the significance, and the power of that literature into my work as an editor. The publication of Contemporary African Literature [edited by Edris Makward and Leslie Lacy]   in 1972 was the beginning of my love affair.” (p. 285)  [***See below]

“Chinua Achebe (along with Camara Laye, Bessie Head, and others) constituted a complete education for me. Learning how to disassemble the gaze that I was wrestling with (the habitual but self-conscious writing toward a nonblack reader that threatened and coated much African American literature); discovering how to eliminate, to manipulate the Eurocentric eye in order to stretch and plumb my own imagination; I attribute these learned lessons to Chinua Achebe.” (p. 286)

In a 1986 interview conducted by Christina Davis, which first appeared in a 1988 issue of the Paris-based journal Presence Africaine (in print or online) and later in Conversations with Toni Morrison (1994), edited by Danille Taylor-Guthrie, Morrison says, in response to the question: What do you feel are links between African and Afro-American literatures? : “I’m only discovering those links in a large sense–that is, as a reader and as a scholar…When I first began to write, I would do no research in that area because I distrusted the sources of research, that is, the books that were available, whether they were religion or philosophy and so on. I would rely heavily and almost totally on my own recollections and, more important, on my own insight about those recollections, and in so doing was able to imagine and to recreate cultural linkages that were identified for me by Africans who had a more familiar, an overt recognition (of them).” (p. 225)

In the same 1986 interview, in answer to the question “If there’s an African writer or African writers that you feel particularly akin to or whose work you feel especially close to?”, Morrison responded: “Well, neither akin nor close but certainly a real education for me. Chinua Achebe was a real education… And certainly the plays of Soyinka and the Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born of Ayi Kwei Armah–those things were at that time real, and they’re the kinds of books that one can re-read with enormous discoveries subsequently.”  (pp. 228-29)

In Toni Morrison’s book review of Camara Laye’s The Radiance of the King (2001 ed.), which appeared in The New York Review of Books in August 2001, and as the foreword in the 2001 English edition of the French original (1954), later re-published in Toni Morrison: What Moves at the Margin (2008), she explains what was the impact of the Guinean author Camara Laye’s approach:

“This extraordinary novel…accomplished something brand new. The clichéd journey into African darkness either to bring light or to find it is reimagined here. In fresh metaphorical and symbolical language, storybook Africa, as the site of therapeutic exploits or of sentimental initiations leading towards life’s diploma, is reinvented. Employing the idiom of the conqueror, using precisely the terminology of the dominant discourse on Africa, this extraordinary Guinean author plucked at the Western eye to prepare it to meet the ‘regard’, the ‘look’, the ‘gaze’ of an African king.” (pp. 121-22)

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***NB: Contemporary African Literature is a spectacular anthology, with color illustrations, now out of print.  It was primarily designed as a textbook to be used for teaching African literature in American high schools and colleges. Sadly, it does not appear to have ever been reviewed by any major book review magazine or newspaper, or by any African or African American studies academic journal.  I am still searching for evidence that it was used in a significant way in any American classroom.  I would argue that interest in this book should be revived among scholars and teachers of Africa.

Women and Gender Studies, Resources for International Research, and… Coffee! Find out more!

For the occasions of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8th, I sat down with Sarah Witte, our Women & Gender Studies Librarian, and Yuusuf Caruso, our African Studies Librarian, and asked them about resources that the Columbia Libraries makes available to researchers interested in women and gender studies at the global level.

What are your recommended resources for getting started with research?

SARAH: Ebscohost Research Databases. “This is a platform of core subject databases, including Gender Studies Database, LGBT Life, Historical Abstracts, Index to Legal Periodicals, Anthropology Plus, Art Source, Film and Television Literature Index, ATLA Religion; as well as interdisciplinary databases focused on specific regions: Bibliography of Asian Studies, and Middle Eastern & Central Asian Studies, Africa Wide, and American Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies. It is a resource for scholarly work on virtually any topic related to women, gender, sexuality and feminism, though the literature it indexes is primarily in English.”

YUUSUF emphasized the need to carry out research based on print and subscription-based holdings at the Libraries while supplementing them with open access research publications on gender and social equity, environmental sustainability, economic security, sustainable and ethical agriculture and trade, and the role of NGOs and grassroots movements. In addition to the EBSCO suite of index databases mentioned by Sarah, he cites the African Women’s  Bibliographic Database (Leiden);  online journals:  Feminist AfricaAgenda—a journal about women and gender;  and, New African woman ;  web sites:  CODESRIA-Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Dakar, Senegal), with over 230 online full texts on African women and agriculture; African Women’s Development Fund (Accra, Ghana);  Forum for African Women Educationalists (Nairobi, Kenya); and, Gender Links for Equality and Justice (Johannesburg, South Africa).  For historical research at Columbia on women, gender, and sexuality in Africa, see:  Gender and Sexuality in African History.

What new research interests and trends have you noticed in women’s and gender studies at Columbia, and what new or timely resources are available to researchers?

SARAH emphasized a number of areas of strong research interest at Columbia, including: national and transnational feminist movements, inter-generational trauma, menstrual health and justice, rights for sexual minorities, for diaspora and immigrant communities, to name a few. She also stressed the growing interest of researchers in alternative forms of documentation and grassroots testimony, including personal narratives, oral histories, letters, memoirs, film, art and literature.

Women and Social Movements, Modern Empires Since 1820, from Alexander Street Press is a new full-text database that seeks to explore themes in world history since 1820: conquest, colonization, settlement, resistance, and post-colonialism, through the voices of individual women.  It includes more than 50 curated document clusters organized by theme, time period and empire, including the Habsburg, Ottoman, the British, French, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Japanese, and United States Empires, and settler societies in the United States, New Zealand and Australia.  It includes a variety of sources: 93 issues of L’Egyptienne, an Egyptian feminist and nationalist journal published from 1925 to 1940, transcripts of interviews with women activists in South Africa, Guatemala, Romania, and the United States, manuscript letters in Arabic with English translations.  It is a companion database to Women and Social Movements International: 1840 to present, which focuses on international organizations.”

It is no secret that coffee, and agriculture in general, were a major factor in setting up colonies in East Africa. These excerpts are from: Farming and planting in British East Africa: a description of the leading agricultural centres and an account of agricultural conditions and prospects / compiled and edited by T.J. O’Shea, Nairobi : Newland, Tarlton & Co., Ltd., 1917.

YUUSUF: Stressing emerging areas of scholarly relevance, Yuusuf highlighted women’s development, labor movements, and gender-related social and economic justice movements in Africa.  Then noticing the cup of coffee I held in my hand, he smiled and said: “So for example, if you were interested in something as mundane as the provenance of that cup of coffee …and women’s roles in our world, assuming this is coffee imported from Africa,  you may want to consult a few recent publications for starters available in the Libraries, such as:  the 2018 Coffee Atlas of Ethiopia, which documents the sources of Ethiopia’s coffee production ;  A Good African Story, an incisive insider account of a successful African-owned coffee company in Uganda (the company’s website features articles and links to interviews about different aspects of the coffee business, including the role of women’s cooperatives);  a chapter on the same company in a 2018 book on Africapitalism: rethinking the role of business in Africa offers an analysis of the attempt to transform Uganda’s and even Africa’s role in the coffee industry—from being merely exporters of green beans to becoming exporters of high-quality roasted and packaged coffee that can be bought straight off shelves in Europe ; plus, two case studies:  Rita Verma’s Gender, land and livelihoods in East Africa: through farmers’ eyes and Kiah Smith’s Ethical trade, gender, and sustainable livelihoods: women smallholders and ethicality in Kenya,  which examine social and economic issues surrounding women and cash crop farming in post-colonial and 21st century Kenya.”

Yuusuf also had tips on how to conduct productive searches in the Library catalog and in other databases. One is that –because the issue of “women farmers” is often lumped in with that of agricultural development in general—there are few books with LC subject headings “women farmers” for African countries. Hence, the best search strategy might be to use “Women Agriculture [name of country]” as keywords in “all fields”.

There’s a lot to think about the next time you head out to grab that cup of coffee!

OLIVER “TUKU” MTUKUDZI, 1952-2019

Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi performing in 2018. Credit: Mário Pires.
Photo: Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi performing in 2018. Credit: Mário Pires. From African Arguments (UK).

Columbia University’s WWW-Virtual Library on “Tuku” 

African Arguments (UK): “Rest in power: Oliver Mtukudzi…,” by Rumbidzai Dube, January 25, 2019.

Afropop Worldwide (USA): “Remembering Oliver Mtukudzi,” by Banning Eyre. January 24, 2019 ; “Oliver Mtukudzi dies at 66,” January 23, 2019.

CNN Online News: “Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi: Healing a wounded nation through music.” (January 2013)

Mail & Guardian (South Africa): “Through upheaval and instability, we always had Oliver Mtukudzi,” January 24, 2019

Music.org.za: Mtukudzi, Oliver (Tuku), 2003 (Making Music Productions, South Africa)

National Public Radio (USA): “‘Left Alone’: Oliver Mtukudzi sees music as therapy.” (July 24, 2013)

BBC World Service, via YouTube.com: Oliver Mtukudzi’s “Neria,” September 2009.

YouTube.com: “Oliver Mtukudzi & Ladysmith Black Mambazo–“Neria”, June 2018 ; “Neria”, October 2009 ; “Todii,” February 2012 ; “Wasakara”, May 2011 ; “Ndakuvara”, September 2009 ; “Chiri Nani,” August 2009 ; “Ngoromera”, May 2009.

Mtukudzi in Columbia’s Library Catalog:

Oliver Mtukudzi : living Tuku music in Zimbabwe
Author: Kyker, Jennifer, 1979- Published: Bloomington, Indiana : Indiana University Press, [2016]

Tuku backstage : the first tell-all biography of the music, life and secrets of Oliver Mtukudzi
Author: Mutamba, Shepherd Published: Harare : Mhotsi Uruka, 2015.

Acoustic Africa [sound recording] : in concert
Published: Doische, Belgium : Contre Jour, p2011.

The culture of AIDS in Africa : hope and healing in music and the arts
Published: New York : Oxford University Press, c2011. –See also: E-Book version

Keeping the embers alive : musicians of Zimbabwe.
Author: Capp, Myrna Published: Trenton, NJ : Africa World Press, 2006.

Sounds of change : social and political features of music in Africa.
Published: Stockholm: Swedish Development Cooperation Agency, [2004]

African odyssey [sound recording]
Published: [S.l.] : Putumayo, p2001.

The Rough guide to the music of Zimbabwe [sound recording]
Published: London : World Music Network, pc1996.

Jit [videorecording]
Published: [Chicago, IL] : Home Vision, 1993.

Neria [videorecording]
Published: [Lexington, Ky. : Amazon.com.kydc., 2010?]

Mbira music [videorecording] : spirit of the people
Published: Princeton, NJ : Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2006.

Africa [sound recording] : 50 years of music : 50 years of independence = Afrique : 50 ans de musique : 50 ans d’indepéndances
Published: [Paris?] : Discograph, p2010.

See also: “Music of Zimbabwe” [Subject]

100th Anniversary of Birth of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela & Barack Obama’s 2018 Mandela Lecture

For 20 years, one popular feature of Columbia University Libraries’ virtual library for
“African Studies Internet Resources” has been and continues to be a list of web links to reliable information about famous people of African descent, past and present.  This month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the much celebrated South African, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.  A list of annotated links on Mandela are posted on library web pages for “African Biography on the Internet” -and- “South Africa–Culture, History, & Languages”.  Included in this updated list are web sites or pages in honor of this year’s 100th anniversary and on “Mandela Day”, which is observed in South Africa every year on July 18th….as well as a link to the full text transcript of the16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture delivered on July 17, 2018 by former US President Barack Obama, at the Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, sponsored by The Nelson Mandela Foundation.

See Columbia’s library holdings: About Nelson Mandela and Mandela, the author;
About Barack Obama and Obama, the author

Columbia Acquires “Annual Departmental Reports Relating to Nigeria and the British Cameroons, 1887-1962”

Columbia University Libraries’ has just acquired a searchable online version of the British Colonial Office’s “Annual Departmental Reports Relating to Nigeria and the British Cameroons, 1887-1962.”  

As part of their series “British Online Archives”, Microform Academic Publishers is making available a digitized version of the microfilmed administrative records on colonial Nigeria and Cameroon. The collection is “..divided between ten headings: Administration, Finance, Judicial and Police, Natural Resources, Social Services, Transport and Public Works, Communications and Post Office Savings, Commerce, Miscellaneous, and reports relating to the British Cameroons.”

This collection is also available on microfilm through interlibrary loan for all Columbia affiliates from The Center for Research Libraries (Chicago), see: http://catalog.crl.edu/record=b1922197~S1

Please send comments to Dr. Yuusuf Caruso, African Studies Librarian, Columbia University, at: caruso@columbia.edu

African Studies WWW-Virtual Library Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Columbia University sponsors the most detailed, comprehensive guide on “African Studies Internet Resources” available anywhere.  Frequently updated, this resource is celebrating its 20th anniversary during the academic year 2017-2018 as the official WWW-Virtual Library for African Studies.

Open access electronic resources from Africa are organized by region and country. All materials are arranged to encourage an awareness of authorship, type of information, and subject. The selection criteria for the collection is research-oriented, but it also provides access to other web sites with different or broader missions.

The site includes links to: Africana library catalogs and archives ; African art and archaeology ; African languages ; African literature ; African studies programs and Universities in Africa ; Business and economic information on Africa ; Climate and environment in Africa ; Electronic newspapers from Africa ; Energy in Africa ; Films from and about Africa  ; Health information on Africa ; Human rights in Africa ; Maps of Africa Religion in Africa ; and much more.

Another demonstration of its scope and precision are selected links to breaking and current news analysis from and about every country on the continent.  Some examples are selections on Democratic Republic of Congo (2018) ; Nigeria (2018-2019) ; Kenya (2017-2018) ; and Zimbabwe (2017-2018), where recent political crises and elections since mid-2017 have drawn wide international attention.

 

Colonial Law in Africa — New Online Primary Resource at Columbia

Columbia University Libraries has acquired a new online primary resource:

Colonial Law in Africa: African Government Gazettes, 1808-1919 and 1920-1945

An extensive collection of “digitized” legal records on British colonial African territories, covering the 19th and 20th centuries, selected from the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and part of the “British Online Archives” series from Microform Academic Publishers.

Columbia faculty, students, and other library patrons with borrowing privileges, can now access the first two parts of this collection of government gazettes and legal notices which are relevant to research on the impact of the Napoleonic Wars, the Boer War, the First World War, the abolition of the legal status of slavery, the transfer of Southern Rhodesia from the British South Africa Company to formal colonial rule, the impact of the Treaty of Versailles on Tanganyika and Zanzibar, and on British colonial policies during the Second World War throughout Africa.

Part I: 1808-1919

Part II: 1920-1945

*NOTE: This collection complements the British colonial “African Blue Books, 1821-1953.” ; as well as, “Retrospective Government Gazettes” of South Africa, 1910-1993

Imagining the World: Exhibit Reception

Thanks to all who joined us at the reception for the reception for the exhibit opening of Imagining the World: Unexplored Global Collections at Columbia on April 17.  Some pictures of the opening (and the exhibit itself) are included below.  The exhibit will be in the Chang Octagon Room of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library through June 24, so please do come visit!

The Global Studies Curatorial Team

The Global Studies Curatorial Team (Socrates Silva, Rob Davis, Peter Magierski, Yuusuf Caruso, Michelle Chesner, Pamela Graham, Gary Hausman)

Yuusuf Caruso and the African Studies case

Yuusuf Caruso and the African Studies case

GS_exhibit-8

Lively discussion

News and Views on President Obama’s 2015 Trip to Kenya and Ethiopia

For a short list of “open access” articles and essays reflecting a wide range of approaches to the first visit by a sitting American president to both Kenya and Ethiopia and the first speech by an American president to be made at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, see the selections on offer from Columbia University Libraries’ “African Studies Virtual Library.”  There are also links to other aspects of recent US foreign policies toward Africa.

British records on “Apartheid South Africa” boosts primary resources on South Africa

Columbia faculty and students can now access the full text of digitized selected documents from the British National Archives on South Africa during the “apartheid” era.  The “Archives Direct” collection on South Africa from Adam Matthew includes files from the Foreign, Colonial, Dominion and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices spanning the period 1948 to 1980; divided into three sections: 1948-1966, 1967-1975, and 1976-1980.  For more details, see:  Nature and scope of the collection.

This new digital resource complements other “primary resource” materials relating to 20th century South Africa and the southern Africa region available to researchers at Columbia, including: Aluka–The Struggle for Liberation in Southern Africa South African Government Gazettes–1910-1993 and 1994 to the Present ; Digital National Security Archive: South Africa: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1962-1989 ; The Gay J. MacDougall South Africa and Namibia Papers ; and, The Papers of The Committee for Health in Southern Africa.

For earlier historical periods, researchers at Columbia can search other “online” sources in Confidential Print: Africa, 1834-1966 ; Nineteenth Century Collections: Europe and Africa ; and, World Newspaper Archive–African newspapers before 1923.

A “subject” search in CLIO, using the terms “South Africa Sources”, will provide a greater sense of the “primary resource” offerings on South Africa at Columbia in print, microform, and electronic formats.