Katie Carline, a fellow in the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative and South African PhD student at Michigan State University, first learned about the rich CAMP collection of African newspapers from Peter Limb, Africana librarian at MSU (now retired). Newspapers from the Eastern Cape region of South Africa in the twentieth century have been 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,” says Carline.
She was particularly inspired 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 testimonial-type advertisements, with most of the testimonials written by women from rural areas of the Eastern Cape.
On Carline’s website Mapping Consumers in the Black South African Press, 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."