Ashleigh Harris: "African Oral Literature and the 19th Century Catalogue in Cape Town"
- Date: –16:00
- Location: Engelska parken 6-0023 (Danius Room)
- Organiser: Department of Literature
- Contact person: Paula Henrikson
Higher Seminar in Literature
Research presentation by Ashleigh Harris, Uppsala University.
Because of colonial imposition of written culture on Sub-Saharan Africa during the 19th century ‘scramble for Africa’, established pre-colonial oral cultures entered the written archive as ethnographic curiosity rather than with respect to their literary qualities. This paper draws on a larger research project in which I investigate the ways in which the classificatory ontology of the idea of the literary in colonial Africa was entangled with how African oral forms were classified, catalogued and archived. Here, I focus my discussion on the history of the literary catalogue in Cape Town. Because of Cape Town's strategic position in colonial oceanic trade and slave routes, the city's private and public libraries were influenced by an array of different European and American cataloguing systems and classificatory sciences. As such, Cape Town's 19th century literary catalogues are rich sites for analysis where we can trace the ways in which colonial classification of African oral forms contributed to a conception of the literary that privileges European literary history and forms. Furthermore, I argue that these colonial conceptions of the literary continue to structure world literature today, primarily because we have not adequately interrogated the extent to which today's classification standards of literature continue to draw on their 19th century forebears.