Sunday 15 February 2015

On archives, part 1

As I am now starting to write up my methodology chapter, I have been gathering articles and books on archival research. While reading through Maria Tamboukou's remarkable 2014 article on the epistolary archive of Dora Carrington, I came across the following words from Caroline Steedman, which have not left my mind since:

"[Y]ou find nothing in the Archive but stories caught half way through: the middle of things: discontinuities." 

These discontinuities, these absences and gaps haunt the journal extracts making up the vast part of my very own source material. Steedman's almost poetical description of what I often felt was frustrating and tedious and challenging can almost reconcile me with hours of guesswork and searching for answers in piles of crumbling paper.

Tambokou, M. (2014): Archival research: unravelling space/time/matter entanglements and fragments. Qualitative Research, Vol. 14(5), 617­–633.

Steedman, C. (2001). Dust. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Mapping change

The website has compiled a variety of maps of the African continent showing the political and economic situation in Africa from before colonisation and since. The collection is an excellent visual representation of the changes on the continent in the last 200 years.

Africa before colonisation
Africa in 1910
African National independence
(all images from:

Wednesday 12 November 2014

SST Postgraduate Conference Manchester 2015

I was just confirmed as a speaker at the 2015 SST Postgraduate Conference in Manchester: 'Images, Icons & Idols'. In my paper 'Idols', 'superstitions' and the 'prince of darkness' – Linguistic re-mapping of the Yorùbá pantheon in 19th century missionary correspondence I will talk about the effects of missionary translation work and re-interpretations of Yorùbá cosmology and theology. Leeds' very own Dr. Al McFadyen will be one of the keynote speakers. What a nice way to come back from the Christmas break!

Monday 1 September 2014

Interview on Nigeria with Holger Klein

I am not ashamed to admit: I have been a huge fan of podcasting legend and German radio presenter Holger Klein for quite some time. His private podcasting project WRINT, his research podcasting project Resonator for the renowned Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, and his radio shows on the German station RBB make up a considerable part not only of my playlist but also of those of the sizeable loyal audience he has gathered over the years.

Holger asks professionals, activists, and enthusiasts from various backgrounds to share their stories and their knowledge, their experience and their passion with him and his audience.
Before my trip to Nigeria, I was bold enough to get in touch with him and ask if he would be interested in learning more about Nigeria and talking about my research. I was thrilled when he replied and said: Yes!
So a couple of weeks ago, we managed to arrange a Skype interview -- one of the scariest and most amazing experiences since I started my PhD. NB: Holger is a very pleasant conversational partner and himself not scary at all but I was still glad the interview was recorded and not live.
We talked about Nigerian missionary and colonial history,  the present-day situation of religious and political conflict in the country, language and media production, researching religion in Africa as an outsider, and last but not least: Nigerian food.

You can find the podcast (in German only, unfortunately) on Holger's website.

Sunday 22 June 2014

20th Sociolinguistics Symposium, Jyväskylä

I was privileged to attend and present at the 20th Sociolinguistics Symposium in Jyväskylä, Finland, this week. With renowned keynote speakers, such as Terttu Nevalainen (University of Helsinki) and Adrian Blackledge (University of Birmingham), and a broad variety of talks on the theme of 'Language, Space, Time' the conference was an excellent opportunity to meet researchers from over 50 countries, share my work, and learn about fascinating research outside of the filter bubble that is my PhD project. The midsummer boat trip also gave all of us a chance to see more of the breathtaking Finnish lake district and meet in a more informal setting. 
You can find the draft of my talk on 'Black white men' - Yoruba missionaries' renegotiation of identity and place through language' here. This talk was a variation of the one I gave at last year's EASR Annual Conference in Liverpool, tailored to the linguistic audience in Jyväskylä.

Jyväskylä Conference Centre

Thursday 29 May 2014

Telling the "divinely mandated success story"

Today gave a talk at the Language@Leeds seminar on how 19th century missionary correspondence from Yorubaland worked as an instrument of discursive power. The group gives an opportunity to researchers across all disciplines to present their research on linguistic topics and get valuable feedback from their peers. Below you can find the abstract to my talk, which also forms the basis for my next thesis chapter.

The source material of my interdisciplinary research consists of letters, journals and reports from 19th century Yorubaland (Western Nigeria), written by European and African missionaries from the Church Missionary Society (CMS). In these documents I look for evidence of how language was used to (re-)construct 'reality' of missionaries' life and work.
This correspondence was not private, but was used to inform CMS policy decisions and fed into the CMS periodicals, telling the Christian audience 'at home' and abroad about missionary work, conversions, and life in 'exotic' West Africa. The content of a missionary's letters and journals did reflect on his own work and on the writer's fellow missionary on the field and the missionary effort as a whole. We have to ask ourselves how this affected the writing itself, the reliability of the documents, and the selection of journal extracts and stories to share with their audience.
The second question I address is whose perspectives and interpretations of events the audience found represented in these documents. The authors of the majority of the correspondence were male Christians employed by the mission. Members of the non-Christian native population and converts with no direct involvement in the mission had virtually no access to this discourse channel; their perspectives and interpretations of events, where they can access the discourse, tend to be critical and divergent of those in missionary writing. Equally, despite the fact that most missionaries were married, their wives do not feature largely in the agents' correspondence and with a few notable exceptions did not correspond with the CMS themselves. The “divinely mandated success story” (Peel, 2003: 17) which most of my source material tells is therefore far from comprehensive.
I argue that, following Diamond's insight that power  “[involves] the ability to interpret events and reality, and have this interpretation accepted by others” (Diamond 1996: 13), missionary correspondence can be seen as an instrument of discursive power, which necessarily resulted in an androcentric and Christian-focussed picture of missionary activity.   

Diamond, J. (1996): Status and power in verbal interaction. A study of discourse in a close-knit social network. Amsterdam, Benjamins.
Peel, J. (2003): Religious encounter and the making of the Yoruba. Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Thursday 8 May 2014

National Archives in Ibadan

I would like to write a few lines about my work in the Nigerian National Archives in Ibadan in April. As I have mentioned before, the purpose of my visit to the archives was mainly to find early 20th century documents in the Church Missionary Society (CMS) archives which can give me some indication of the impact of missionary language use on the nascent nationalist movement in the area and the concomitant efforts to form African Christian churches independent of the missionary churches. I was lucky enough to be in Ibadan when the National Archives' 60 year anniversary was held, which was celebrated with a Christian service outside the building.

Unfortunately, a large number of the documents I had expected to find in Ibadan were in fact not available. For example, despite the fact that the respective finding lists were available in Ibadan, documents with the shelfmarks CMS ECC 1 and CMS N (Niger Mission) could only be accessed in the archives in Enugu. Equally, out of the 18 documents I requested from the CMS Y collection (200 documents in total, 1844-1945), only 4 were actually available.

However, the information I was able to gather from the archives can be of considerable use not only to the limited area of my research outlined above.

I was able gather information about conflicts between the CMS and newly emerging native churches, particularly concerning the questions of polygamy and opening the native churches for those previously excommunicated from missionary churches. Trials over land ownership and physical violence against missionaries only served to aggravate the situation and the disapproval on the side of the missionary churches. Rev. Melville Jones' correspondence (CMS Y 1/6/1) in particular proved insightful in this matter. It was also interesting to see from reports about disputes between the native population and the Catholic Mission in the Roman Catholic Mission Papers that in the Benin Diocese similar problems for the missionaries arose almost simultaneously. An opposing point of view on the matter is offered by Herbert Macaulay in his 1941 lecture on "The history of the development of missionary works in Nigeria": "In consequence of certain differences of opinion which occurred between them and the authorities of the several Churches to which they belonged sometimes before the year 1891, they were moved by their honest convictions to secede as they came to the unanimous conclusion that the time had arrived for the Establishment in Lagos of a purely undesirable shackles of foreign control." These differences of opinion primarily arose from the tension of the 'imported' European form of Christianity and the desire to see a 'home-made' form of African Christianity emerge. Macaulay quotes to the sermon of a British Niger Mission agent towards the end of his lecture, which nicely encapsulates the matter: "The Gospel of Christ is for the whole world, it belongs as much to the African as to the European. In fact, in its origin it is more connected with Africa. [B]y associating [Christianity] altogether with European ideas and customs, we are narrowing its scope.”

Another aspect of my research which I would like to mention here is the question of who could access the discourse about missionary work produced by the missionaries' correspondence. It is not hard to guess that this discourse was on the whole informed by male Christian missionaries who wrote their letters, journals and reports for and sent them to male European Christians in the CMS headquarters in London. This means that two major groups involved in missionary activities were excluded from this discourse; African Christians (and also non-Christian natives) who were not intimately involved in the mission, and missionaries' wives[], who had often come to Yorubaland with their husband or, in the case of the African agents, lived in the mission compound, and were often entrusted with teaching tasks. 
The experiences and views of these two groups were generally not part of the picture that was painted of the state and progress of missionary efforts by the agents' correspondence. In the documents I found during my time in Ibadan, once again, women were mainly talked about but did either not take or were not given the opportunity to contribute to the discourse themselves. When Rev. Melville Jones, for example, writes in 1903 "I doubt if Mr. Harding's letter fully represents Mrs. Wood's view" (CMS Y 1/6/1), one can start to wonder if Mrs. Wood herself would not have been the ideal candidate the represent her view. A number of such examples found in the documents in Ibadan can now inform my writing on the power relations allowing or banning access and contribution to discourse.