“Mapping Consumers in the Black South African Press”
Katie Carline, PhD Candidate, Michigan State University
Nominated by: Ethan Watrall, Assistant Professor/Associate Director, MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences, Michigan State University
During the 1930s, in a significant cultural shift, white-owned consumer products companies in South Africa began sustained advertising campaigns in newspapers for black African readers. One popular type of advertisement was a testimonial endorsement of the product from a “real” person. Mapping Consumers in the Black South African Press is a digital map of these advertisements, created by Katie Carline, PhD student in South African history at Michigan State University. She is the recipient of the 2019 CRL Primary Source Award for research.
Two newspapers from the Eastern Cape region of South Africa in the twentieth century were central to Carline’s research. “This is a region that has a vibrant African intellectual and political tradition, where many of its leading figures wrote for newspapers. However, these papers had small circulations, and many were short-lived, so it is often difficult to locate copies,” she notes. She accessed the materials from CRL, having learned about the rich assortment of African newspapers available in the Cooperative Africana Materials Project (CAMP) collection from Peter Limb, Africana librarian at MSU (now retired).
Carline was particularly intrigued by a bilingual Xhosa-English newspaper called Umlindi we Nyanga (The Monthly Watchman), published in East London (Eastern Cape) between 1934 and 1941. “Reading this paper changed my understanding of the geographic dynamics of black consumer culture in South Africa, and the role of women in shaping it,” she explains. She was surprised by the frequency of the testimonial-type advertisements, with most of the testimonials attributed to women from rural areas of the Eastern Cape.
On Carline’s Mapping Consumers website, she notes that “Much of the scholarship has focused on how white-owned companies marketed products to consumers in ways that reinforced racial, economic, and gender hierarchies in South Africa. Testimonial advertisements are an opportunity to see who consumers themselves were, and how they spoke about themselves and the products they bought—always filtered, of course, through the lens of advertisers and newspaper publishers.”
A reviewer of Carline’s project stated, “It’s difficult enough to analyze one newspaper, but this is evidence that more than one newspaper can be used for deeper analysis.” Carline’s project website includes extensive documentation allowing the viewer to reference all the data used to construct the map of consumer endorsers. She only tracked advertisements that gave specific address locations for the testimonial writers (a typical feature). For each person cited she provides the name, address, gender (if evident), product advertised and a short excerpt of the testimonial.