King's College London
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Hidden voices of Empire

Finding hidden voices

Portrait of a school mistress of Abuja Elementary SchoolSchool mistress of Abuja Elementary SchoolBritish voices are easy to find within the periodicals. Many development articles were written by British writers and entirely fail to mention the group of people who were supposed to be benefiting from the work.

By definition, the information this project has sought is much more difficult to uncover. In some cases, voices have been hidden too successfully by the historical record to enable meaningful discoveries.

In particular, individuals who fell into more than one marginalised group, such as African women (historically disadvantaged by their gender as well as their ethnicity), are barely detectable in the sources, although they will be highlighted wherever they are.

Nonetheless, the hidden voices of colonised Africa can be traced in numerous ways.

Articles written by Africans

Firstly, and most obviously, are the pieces written by Africans themselves. These are comparatively rare despite the fact that most of the periodicals studied were produced in the colonies and were primarily targeted at African audiences.

Unfortunately, one inevitable interpretation of this imbalance in authorship is deliberate suppression of views that did not align with the publishers’ pro-British narratives.

This censorship is brought into view by the editor’s foreword to the 1956 edition of the West African annual, which discussed the grounds on which many contributions to its writing competition had been disqualified:

The most forcefully worded indulged in political controversy and this ruled them out. These were in any case rarely constructive, but rather unfairly critical of Britain’s part in the development and administration of West African territories.

This draws into question the validity of conclusions drawn from African-penned articles, as a threshold clearly existed beyond which criticism could not be published. Nonetheless, they remain incredibly valuable for the insights they provide.

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