Popular print and reading cultures in francophone Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Modern Languages


By 2050, it is estimated that 85% of the world's French speakers will be based on the African continent (Observatoire de la langue française, 2014). There are expanding francophone African diasporic populations in North America, Europe, and China. With this future-oriented demographic context in mind, the proposed project will investigate popular writing and reading practices in post-independence Senegal, with a particular focus on magazines. The project addresses urgent issues concerning literacy and development, working with the National Women's Museum in Dakar and the Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar to develop professional capacity and promote engagement with historic print initiatives within Senegal through a pilot digitisation project and two related exhibitions (one in Dakar, the other in Bristol). Public engagement work and academic outputs (conferences/publications) will build connections to current creative and pedagogical work around reading. This work engages with research priorities in Modern Languages and the Arts and Humanities more broadly, namely the interpretation and preservation of cultural production in the Global South; changing ideas of the public sphere in an era of transnational mobility; and the materiality of post-independence local and national narratives.

From Onitsha market literature in Nigeria to recent online and print channels such as Chimurenga (South Africa) and Kwani? (Kenya), popular print cultures in Africa have to-date been studied in primarily anglophone regions of the continent. This research has highlighted the social worlds of everyday literacies, the emergence of new genres, and the kinds of textual and visual authority wielded by so-called 'popular' print. Recent research on print culture in francophone regions of the continent has focused on inequalities in the global literary marketplace and the production of a francophone literary canon. This project will advance thosefindings by turning to the broader post-independence print archive found in popular magazines and investigating its significance for current and future ideas about reading, writing, and the materiality of the word in the Global South. The core focus will be on three magazines distributed across francophone Africa and its diaspora: Bingo, La Vie Africaine, and Awa: la revue de la femme noire. These magazines have been overlooked due to difficulty of access, leading to potentially narrow understandings of reading cultures in twentieth and twenty-first-century francophone Africa. They acted as vehicles for cultural translation across regions, between urban and rural milieux, as well as transnationally. They evoked a sense of individual and collective identity, themes of work and leisure, ideas of literature (the founding editors were published poets), political solidarity (whether national, or transnational, especially in the Cold War context), and acted as tools for generating future aspirations. The emergence of female writers and readers through these magazines is particular significant, pointing to active networks of female cultural producers that pre-date the canonical 'first generation' of African women writers. A central research output of the current project will be a co-authored article analysing quantitatively and qualitatively over 2000 readers' letters that appear in these magazines, based on quantitative and qualitative analysis. This work seeks to identify and analyse instances of reading for pleasure, as well as more instrumental reading practices. In their digitised form, these magazines will provide a rich archive of material for historians, political scientists, and social anthropologists working on this region. Using innovative collaboration between the UK, France and Senegal, the project seeks to collate, curate, research, and promote the archive of popular print production in francophone Africa for academic and non-academic audiences.

Planned Impact

The two planned exhibitions and pilot digisation project will have a number of non-academic impacts designed to encourage dialogue around popular writing and reading cultures in Senegal and francophone sub-Saharan Africa more broadly. The collaboration with Musée de la Femme-Henriette Bathily (MUFEM) in Dakar, Senegal will co-produce an exhibition that will encourage new audiences to engage with the past, present, and future of African women's magazines. The exhibition aims to highlight positively the innovation within these historic print publications and the ways in which they encouraged reading and literacy. The project will reach out to current producers of print and digital magazines in Senegal through the curation of the exhibition itself, and the launch event/round table. We are particularly keen to encourage young literary entrepreneurs to engage creatively with this heritage of independent print production on the African continent and reflect on its significance for their own practice.

This work has the potential to influence syllabi and educational policy, by shifting cultural and critical practices towards popular print production on the continent. This is significant given unevenness in the material means of knowledge production between Global North and Global South, and the dominance of literature (including by African authors) published in France. Publicity for the project will target teachers and students at the main university in Dakar, which is next door to the Musée de la Femme (MUFEM). Employees of relevant government bodies (the Direction du Livre et de la Lecture at the Ministère de la culture et du patrimoine) will be invited to attend the launch event of the exhibition and the PI/CI seminar at the Université Cheikh Anta Diop. International organisations and NGOs (especially those relating to women's literacy) will also be invited to attend the launch event of the exhibition. A questionnaire, guestbook and feedback 'message board' at the bition will be used to measure responses. We will also provide take-away postcards/posters featuring a cover of Awa magazine and with a link to the project website inviting people to provide further feedback.

The collaboration between academics cultural institutions in Senegal and the UK will also be developed through the translation and adaptation of this exhibition for a UK audience in Bristol. This exhibition and two related engagement activities (with local women's groups and with Senegambian Hidden Talent community group) will explore reading cultures generated and sustained by mobile popular print forms in the transnational public sphere. Senegambian Hidden Talent is a grassroots organisation that encourages aspirations among young Senegalese and Gambian people in the UK. Linking this project to their activities has the potential to expand the current scope Black History initiatives in Bristol and the UK in productive ways, while raising further awareness of the work of our partner organisations in Senegal.

The pilot digitisation project will contribute to the development of professional practice at our second partner organisation, the Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire in Senegal, with the potential for them to develop further digitisation initiatives after the life of the project. This project has clear heritage value for networks of people involved directly in the production of these magazines and popular print production in sub-Saharan Africa more broadly. Informing the general public will be part of the publicity work (social media; Senegalese press; posters) around the exhibition/web resource carried out with curators at the Musée de la Femme-Henriette Bathily. This collaboration, linking awareness-raising exhibitions to the creation of digital resources and more traditional academic outputs, could provide a model for future Arts and Humanities research in other ODA countries.


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Title Awa exhibition (Dakar) 
Description This exhibition was one of the central outputs of the project. Titled 'Awa: une revue féminine pionnière. Sénégal 1964-1973', it was held at the Musée de la Femme-Henriette Bathily in Dakar, Senegal from November 2017 - April 2018. We worked with a professional curator and committee of advisors (feminist scholars, journalists, international curators, the magazine founder) to prepare the exhibition. It contained 15 panels with an illustrated narrative account of this pioneering magazine, placing it in the context of black print cultures and debates around African feminism; three tables with archival material (photographs, newspapers, copies of illustrative articles from the magazine itself); four screens - three with documentaries linked to the magazine and its founder, and one with a slideshow of the digitised magazine; a commentary wall where visitors could leave and read responses to the exhibition. The launch event was attended by over 300 people and included in the programme of Les Ateliers de la Pensée - a major gathering of over 40 African intellectuals organised annually in Dakar by Felwine Sarr and Achille Mbembe. The event included a round table with journalists, bloggers, and academics (chaired by the project PI and CI) and a concert by female drum troupe. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The exhibition, which opened to coincide with the launch of the digitised version of Awa magazine, attracted widespread press coverage in Senegal and internationally (including front cover of the Senegalese national daily paper, Le Soleil; radio coverage on Radio France Internationale; a television report on TV5 Monde in the weeks following). Visitor numbers will be confirmed at the close of the exhibition in April 2018 and comments on the commentary wall will be recorded. Visitors to date have included several visits by schools and NGOs. We have been contacted (in March 2018) by a group of women planning to launch a new women's magazine, in part inspired by AWA and the exhibition. 
URL http://www.africanreadingcultures.blogs.ilrt.org/en/events/exhibition-awa-dakar/
Title Awa exhibition (Montpellier) 
Description The exhibition held in Dakar will run at the Bibliothèque Ramon Llull in Montpellier (France) from 19 March 2018 - 20 April 2018. It has been adapted to the space, in consultation with librarians in Montpellier and the Dakar-based curator, Delphine Calmettes (Director of the Galérie La Manège). 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The exhibition will be part of the Semaine de l'Afrophonie in Montpellier and the launch will coincide with the second project conference (African Literature and the Press). It will be open to the general public. There are plans to transfer it to libraries across the region after 20 April 2018, which will further increase the audience. 
URL http://www.ccu.univ-montp3.fr/evenement/2017-2018/exposition-awa
Title Awa exhibition - Bordeaux 
Description Exhibition, as held in Montpellier, produced at Sciences Po Bordeaux, hosted by Les Afriques dans le monde research group. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The exhibition has very recently launched, so it is too early to say. 
Title Jigéén Bu Bés Fenkna 
Description American artist and scholar, Dr Fahamu Pecou, produced this artwork (acrylic and diamond dust on indigo dyed canvas, 198x145cm) inspired by AWA magazine. The artwork incorporated the masthead from the digitised AWA magazine output. Pecou's website describes this as part of a larger project: "M E M O R Y evidences a conscious, nonlinear step into all periods and styles of Blackness. It is a shift away from Western notions of Blackness towards a decidedly Black aesthetic envisioning a fresh perspective on Black identity past, present and future. With "M E M O R Y," Pecou depicts Blackness unbound - free from the confines and limitations informed by lingering misrepresentations of the Black body and prevailing misconceptions of racial inferiority, poverty and/or corruption." 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The artwork was exhibited as part of Pecou's MEMORY project at the Lyons Weir gallery in New York, March 2018. 
URL https://www.fahamupecouart.com/memory
Description The project has given international visibility to one of the earliest African women's magazines, AWA: la revue de la femme noire. This independent magazine was founded in Senegal in 1964 by a network of pioneering women. It is a vital addition to the global feminist archive, provides evidence of women's involvement in the African press in the years following the independences of 1960, and gives inspiration for literary and social activists on the African continent in the 21st century. The magazine has been digitised via an innovative collaboration between partners in Britain, France and Senegal. It is available freely online at www.awamagazine.org. It is also the subject of a multimedia exhibition, running in Dakar, Senegal (Nov 2017 - Apr 2018), Montpellier, France (Mar - Apr 2018), and Bristol (Mar - May 2019). An international conference was held in Bristol in July 2017 in relation to the project's broader concern with popular reading cultures in francophone Africa. This will lead to a special issue of the journal 'Research in African Literatures' in 2020. A second conference took place in Montpellier in March 2018 on 'African literature and the press', leading to a special issue of Etudes littéraires africaines (forthcoming in 2019).
Exploitation Route The magazine has been used by creative practitioners (visual artist Fahamu Pecou produced artwork in 2018), educational specialists, and academic researchers. The project partners, the Musée de la Femme-Henriette Bathily and IFAN Ch. A. Diop may be able to build on the success and international visibility of this project to generate further income, increased visitor numbers and provide a sustainable future for each institution. We will travel to Dakar for further project evaluation in April 2019 (the original planned evaluation trip did not take place due to PI's maternity leave).
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.awamagazine.org
Description The digitised version of AWA magazine, along with the exhibition (Dakar, Nov 2017 - April 2018; Montpellier, March 2018 - April 2018; Bordeaux, March - May 2019; now translated and due to appear online later in 2019). Exhibition has begun to generate responses from literary activists, artists, fashion designers and journalists based in Senegal and internationally. Spurred by widespread press and social media coverage, these responses have noted the inspiration provided by renewed access to the magazine archive, leading in one case to the production of a new artwork ('Jigéén Bu Bés Fenkna' in Memory series by Fahamu Pecou, acrylic and diamond dust on indigo-dyed canvas, 198 x 145, exhibited at Lyons Weir Gallery, New York City) and in another to the launch of a new women's magazine in Senegal. For our partners at the IFAN Ch. A. Diop (Dakar) and Musée de la Femme-Henriette Bathily, the project has provided institutional visibility, increased footfall at the museum in particular, and is giving renewed momentum to plans at IFAN to relaunch their own digital portal (Biens culturels africains), though this will be dependent on their institutional funding. The British Ambassador to Senegal attended the exhibition launch and has expressed interest in the ongoing partnership between University of Bristol and Université Cheikh Anta Diop (host institution of IFAN Ch. A. Diop). Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility funding is now supporting further exchanges between Bristol, Montpellier and Dakar (mobility planned in April 2019 - July 2020).
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Prescribed use of AWA digital resource by graduate students (University of Michigan; Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon)
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Creative Writing and Translation for Peace
Amount £83,898 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S005889/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 01/2020
Description Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility (Bristol-Dakar exchange)
Amount € 10,170 (EUR)
Organisation erasmus + 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 07/2020
Description GCRF pump-priming award
Amount £48,642 (GBP)
Organisation Research Councils UK (RCUK) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 07/2018
Title AWA magazine digital archive resource 
Description This is a fully searchable digitised version of one of the earliest African women's magazines, 'Awa: la revue de la femme noire' (1964-1973). It brings together a scattered archive of 19 issues of this independent, pioneering periodical publication and makes them accessible in open access. The material was scanned by project collaborators at IFAN-Cheikh Anta Diop. The portal was designed by IT engineers based in Bristol. The dataset is stored at IFAN-Ch. A. Diop and on the data repository of the University of Bristol. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact According to web analytics, the site has had 3800 unique visitors since its launch, with a total of 5500 sessions. These visitors are based in 93 countries. Twenty-seven percent of all visitors are located on the African continent. We have received numerous comments via the contact form on the webpage, including enquiries from two fashion designers based in Senegal, an artist based in the United States wishing to use AWA in an artwork, and a team seeking to found a new women's magazine in Senegal. The launch of the portal was widely reported in the Senegalese and African press, including front cover of the national daily newspaper, Le Soleil; an interview on the national radio breakfast show; two reports on Radio France Internationale; a report on TV5 Monde, over 25 reports in other print and online media (English and French). In academic research, we have had feedback from academics in the USA, UK, Senegal and France, from MA students and lecturers planning to use the resource in their research and teaching. This response from the general public and academic researchers has combined to give significant visibility to this pathbreaking magazine - one of the central aims of the project. 
URL http://www.awamagazine.org
Description AHRC network: Small Magazines, Literary Networks and Self-Fashioning in Africa and its Diasporas 
Organisation University of Bristol
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Myself and Dr Ducournau (CI on 'Popular print and reading cultures in francophone Africa') were invited to join this AHRC network. We presented papers in Cape Town, Kampala, and Bristol relating to the digitisation of AWA magazine. This will lead to a planned publication, as well as having provided a forum in which to share and exchange ideas with academics and literary practitioners from across the African continent.
Collaborator Contribution The network provided a very valuable context in which to develop and reflect on research in our project and the production of a digital resource. Exchanges with librarians at the University of Cape Town, for example, were particularly illuminating when considering the context for digitisation projects on the African continent. Funds which paid for our travel to the different locations of our network meetings enabled meetings between the project PI and CI which were not originally planned in our bid, and which further contributed to the sustainability and productivity of our project.
Impact Planned publication (special issue of Social Dynamics journal) for 2019. We will contribute a paper to this issue on the AWA digitisation and exhibition project.
Start Year 2017
Description Hosting AWA exhibition in Bordeaux 
Organisation Institute of Political Studies of Bordeaux
PI Contribution Our research team brought the detailed collaborative research underpinning the exhibition panels to new audiences in Bordeaux, enabling discussions around the material to take place at one of France's leading centres for African studies.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners (Ophélie Rillon and Elara Bertho - both academics based in Bordeaux and Paris respectively) organised the logistics of transporting the exhibition from Montpellier to Bordeaux and setting up the panels in the host institution. They did publicity and are organising a conference (to take place in April 2019) which will further develop transnational dialogue around the exhibition materials.
Impact Exhibition (4 March - 31 May 2019)
Start Year 2018
Description IFAN Cheikh Anta Diop 
Organisation African Institute of Basic Research
PI Contribution Provision of hardware, software and staff training in digitisation of archival material. Creating link with Musée de la Femme-Henriette Bathily and ensuring visibility for IFAN Cheikh Anta Diop in all media coverage of the exhibition and digital resource.
Collaborator Contribution Preparation of scanned digital images and metadata for whole print run (approx. 950 images) of AWA magazine. Contribution to AWA exhibition held at the Musée de la Femme-Henriette Bathily (through provision of archival material). Providing communication channel to Université Cheikh Anta Diop (parent institution of IFAN-Ch. A. Diop).
Impact AWA digital resource
Start Year 2016
Description Musée de la Femme-Henriette Bathily - AWA exhibition (Dakar) 
Organisation Henriette-Bathily Women's Museum
PI Contribution Intellectual input to exhibition materials (preparation of text for panels; selection of images; composition and coordination of the team and scientific committee to generate feedback on the materials).
Collaborator Contribution Provision of space and technical help with putting up the exhibition; coordinating publicity (via press agent who organised press conference, interview on national radio etc.); help with organising launch event, including invitations to high profile guests; museum staff are encouraging visitors to leave comments on the exhibition; museum director is contacting potential venues elsewhere in Senegal to host the exhibition when it closes in Dakar.
Impact AWA Exhibition (Dakar)
Start Year 2016
Description National archives of Senegal 
Organisation National Archives of Senegal
PI Contribution Initiating collaborative work to digitise AWA magazine; ensuring visibility of the national archives at the exhibition, press coverage and the digital resource.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of missing/damaged issues of AWA magazine (loaned to IFAN Ch. A. Diop for digitisation), ensuring complete print run has been scanned and preserved.
Impact Digitised version of AWA magazine.
Start Year 2017
Description Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 
Organisation University of Montpellier
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The institution of the CI on this project (Dr Claire Ducournau) has accommodated this project enthusiastically. Our research is informing the exhibition on AWA to be launched in Montpellier in March 2018, as well as the conference hosted by the University of Montpellier.
Collaborator Contribution The university is providing space, financial assistance, publicity, and technical help with setting up the exhibition in the library of the university.
Impact Conference (African literature and the press); AWA exhibition (Montpellier); planned special issue of Etudes littéraires africaines journal.
Start Year 2017
Description Interview for Radio France Internationale 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The project PI (Ruth Bush) and exhibition artistic curator (Delphine Calmettes) were interviewed by RFI English correspondent. Their interviews were used as part of a 20 minute report on the exhibition and digital resource, broadcast across anglophone Africa and available online. This increased visits to the digital portal (noted via the web analytics), as well as expanding interest beyond the francophone context.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://en.rfi.fr/africa/20171120-dakar-platform-engaged-women-goes-digital
Description Interview for Radio Télévision Sénégalaise 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A 10 minute segment on the Senegalese national radio breakfast show comprising an interview by the show's host with Ruth Bush (PI) and Claire Ducournau (CI). This was part of the week of press work preceding the launch of the exhibition and digital portal in early November 2017. It helped generate a large audience (300+) at the launch and wider interest across the national press (see entry on the digital resource/exhibition; including front cover on national daily paper and international reports on Radio France Internationale and TV5 Monde). Recording available on request.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Interview for TV5 Monde 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The AWA exhibition artistic curator (Delphine Curator) was interviewed on the 'Et si vous me disiez toute la vérité' programme on TV5. The 12 minute video was broadcast on television and online on 16 December 2017, leading to increased visits to the digital portal.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.tv5monde.com/cms/chaine-francophone/Revoir-nos-emissions/Et-si-vous-me-disiez-toute-la-ve...
Description Press conference (AWA exhibition and digital resource launch, November 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Around 50 journalists attended this press conference with the project PI (Ruth Bush) and CI (Claire Ducournau) held at the Musée de la Femme-Henriette Bathily in Dakar, Senegal. It resulted in at least 20 newspaper reports (local, national, online), radio reports, and television (online and direct). This in turn sparked further requests for media interviews and generated attendance at the exhibition launch event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017