King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
Hidden voices of Empire

An insight into the periodicals

A country is much in the same boat as a shop. A visitor searches for something to represent its shop window; to tell him what its inhabitants are like, what is their attitude to life[?]… How easier to discover these secrets than by a study of the county’s newspapers and magazines! There, in cold print, lies the whole story.

Often ignored by historians, periodicals can tell us a lot about a country, how it is run, and what its people thought about contemporary issues, as the above quotation from the West African annual attests. The periodicals underpinning this exhibition are particularly useful for shedding light on British development schemes in Africa, containing between them countless articles on the subject.

Uganda review and Nigeria magazine

Uganda review and Nigeria (later Nigeria magazine) were both quarterly magazines, published by colonial government departments in their home colonies and distributed both in their local regions within Africa and across the Empire. Uganda review ran from 1950 to 1955 and aimed to tell African readers ‘in print and in pictures, what the government is doing or trying to do to help the people of Uganda, and also what the people of Uganda can do to help themselves or to help each other.’

Nigeria had a longer run, albeit one that is not fully represented in the holdings of the FCDO Historical Collection, which holds bound issues from 1949 to 1952 and from 1958 to 1959. Its intended audience was ‘everyone interested in the country and its peoples’ and it claimed in 1949 to have around 48,000 readers (based on a print run of 16,000 copies, which it felt were regularly shared around). In general, the periodical had less to say about development than Uganda review, perhaps explained by the founder, EH Duckworth’s sympathy with Nigerian nationalism and desire to highlight indigenous art and environmental issues.

West African annual

Photographic scenes of the grounds of Gaskiya Corporation's printing works and the press roomThe grounds of Gaskiya Corporation's printing works and the press roomThe West African annual was printed by a newspaper corporation called ‘Gaskiya’ (‘Truth’) which was initially funded by a Colonial Development and Welfare Grant, so it is unsurprising that it aimed ‘to stimulate interest in current affairs and in schemes for development, education, welfare and improvement’.

Its readership was spread across Nigeria, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Gambia, and the UK, and judging by the abundance and nature of its adverts, it was particularly targeted at a growing middle class audience.

As decolonisation grew nearer, West African voices grew louder, being afforded more and more column inches for their own writing throughout the lifetime of the periodical.

If you ask me…

The final and most unique periodical under examination was If you ask me…, a Colonial Office publication, printed in London and sent to subscribers in administrative and government offices across the Empire. Its modus operandi was to reproduce difficult questions asked of administrators by local people in the colonies, and to provide model answers.

The only source aimed at a British audience, If you ask me … provides an unfiltered glimpse into colonial opinion on development, as becomes clear through extended study of the volumes.

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