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Hausa and Kanuri languages as archive for the history of Sahara and Sahel in 18th and 19th century

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - LANGARCHIV (Hausa and Kanuri languages as archive for the history of Sahara and Sahel in 18th and 19th century)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-02-28

The project Langarchiv Language as archive: European linguistics and the social history of the Sahara and Sahel in the eighteenth and nineteenth century is an ERC funded project (Starting Grant 2017 n° 759390 2018-2023) hosted by the French National Centre for Scientific Research CNRS in cooperation with the Universität Leipzig and the University College London. This project gathers an interdisciplinary team of historians, linguists, anthropologists, Sociolinguist, and specialist in Comparative literature and aims at uncovering a large corpus of materials in African languages. The eighteenth and nineteenth-century history of the central Sahara and Sahel has primarily been written using European or jihadist Arabic sources. This has led to an overwhelming emphasis on religion, politics, and geography as core themes that shaped social and cultural dynamics in this region. By focusing on sources in African languages—until now largely forgotten by historians—the project Langarchiv aims to enrich and expand this narrative. Hausa and Kanuri material written in Latin script were collected by German-speaking, British, and French scholars for linguistic study between 1772 and 1913 in West and North Africa, England, and Brazil. This rich body of primary sources remains under-studied having been rejected as colonial even though the majority were collected before colonial occupation and cries out for collaboration between historians, linguists, and anthropologists. A general reconsideration of this material will enable a major shift in our understanding, toward a ‘history from below’ that will make it possible to explore the history of Sahelian societies through the stories that Sahelians told about themselves. Serving as linguae francae, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
Hausa and Kanuri were spoken from Tripoli to Kano and Bahia, and today Hausa remains the most widely spoken language in West Africa, with 50 million speakers scattered over more than 6 countries. Combining an epistemological analysis of European scientific interest in African languages with the will to write a social history that overcomes the jihadist bias, the project aims to bring about a paradigmatic shift in the history of the central Sahara and Sahel. It will achieve this goal by revealing a rich body of primary sources and by developing an innovative analytical framework for using documents generated by early students of African languages and cultures as historical sources. Langarchiv project explores the potential of materials in African languages as sources for African history, by combining an epistemological analysis of European scientific interest in African languages with the will to write a social history that overcomes the jihadist bias, by revealing a rich body of primary sources and by developing an innovative analytical framework for using documents generated by early students of African languages and cultures as historical sources.
The first period of the project has been devoted to multi-situated and multilingual archival work in Europe and Niger. We have visited archives and libraries in four countries, seven cities, and various libraries and archival repositories in Berlin, Hamburg, Paris, Birmingham, Leipzig, Niamey, and Zinder. These yield important findings: we have identified personal archives of several major collectors of Hausa and Kanuri collections, we have worked on a huge corpus of Kanuri text in Latin script containing rich materials on late 19th century and early colonial occupation in Niger and we gain access to the largest private library of Arabic and Ajami's manuscript known to this date in Niger hosted by the Chétima family in the city of Zinder.
In parallel with this research, we have had at heart to bring back these materials and this history where it belongs. In this regard, the PI Camille Lefebvre with Laminou Issaka Brah one of the Deputy Mayor of the city of Zinder in Niger organized a public exhibition in December 2018 entitled Zinder 1900 and dedicated to the history of the city displaying photos and Hausa historical texts. The Sultan of Damagaram, Aboubakar Oumarou Sanda, hosted the display in the courtyard of his palace, which he opened to the public for the first time— this exhibition has been a huge success, 25 000 people came to see it. For a second time, the exhibition was displayed in Niamey in spring 2019 at the Jean Rouch France-Niger cultural center. Camille Lefebvre the PI and Ari Awagana have built a strong partnership with the local municipal and the Sultanate authorities based on trust and the willingness to make the long and rich history of the Sultanate better known.
The PI has presented her ongoing research and results in public conferences in Paris (2020), in Zinder (2018, 2019), in Niamey (2018, 2019), in Lille (2019), and keynote speeches in Zinder (2018) and Pilsen (2018) and Ari Awagana has made public conference in Zinder (2019)and Lille (2019) and presented papers in Vienna (2019) and Hamburg (2018), etc. Particular emphasis was put during this first phase of the project on collective work and inter and cross-disciplinary development. The team (Camille Lefebvre, Ari Awagana, Benedetta Rossi, Stephanie Zehnle, Elara Bertho, and Cecile Van den Avenne) visited archives together and worked together with other experts (Dmitry Bondarev, Jean Charles Hilaire, Hadiza Nazal, and Chaibou Landi) on the documents. Reading the same archive with various pairs of eyes coming from different disciplinary backgrounds has regularly brought out new sets of questions.
The two main focus of the projects are firstly the work on primary sources and translations and secondly public history initiatives towards the West African public.
In regards to the publication of primary sources and translations: Camille Lefebvre and Ari Awagana will publish a two-volume edition of the collection of Kanuri text coproduced by Haz Musa and Rudolf Prietze in the African Sources for African History book series edited by Brill. Camille Lefebvre, Elara Bertho, Jean Charles Hilaire, and Hadiza Nazal are currently completing a translation of all Herman Gundert Harris Hausa materials. The PI in collaboration with Véronique Ginouvès, head of the Phonothèque of MMSH, a French institution specialized in the digitization and long term conservation of Oral History and Musicology Archive, is working on a sound library to preserve, collect, and interpret 20th-century history material in African language recorded in Niger in various languages and today stored in Europe. The archive’s analog recordings hosted in France have been digitized and worked on by the team of the Phonothèque and we are now working on bringing them back and making them available in Niger. Carolin Rippstain will carry out a Ph.D. on the Kanuri language collections resulting from the intellectual collaboration between the German-speaking scholar and missionary Sigismund Koelle and his with his main informant Ali Eisami.
The langarchiv project aims in the upcoming years to use its historical skills and methods to meet the needs of the community of the people of the Hausa and Kanuri language-speaking areas. Ari Awagana and the PI are especially involved in this part of the project. First, we will publish several of the Hausa and Kanuri historical texts produced in the 19th century with a Nigerien publisher specialized in large diffusion of small pamphlets. We are also involved in several projects in the city of Zinder, the construction of a private library open to the public for the collection of the Chétima family, and the construction of a Museum of history in the city of Zinder. We hope to pursue our work in collaboration with local authorities and scholars and Niger and especially in Zinder.
The PI Camille Lefebvre will publish in April 2021 a monograph entitled Des pays au crépuscule. Les débuts de l’occupation coloniale (Sahara-Sahel), Paris, Fayard, a history of early colonial occupation in Niger that brings about a paradigmatic shift in our narrative of colonial conquest by intertwining European archives, Arabic manuscript, and Hausa and Kanuri materials.
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