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Orality and Literacy in Africa: Manuscripts, Memory and Oral Delivery


Admission requirements

‘N.B. Course descriptions are subject to change’

This course is open to second and third year students. Higher requirements will be imposed on third-year students. The codes for the third-year course is : 5733K2011


In an era when that culture and humanities have been linked to the digital, what does manuscript and print culture mean in Africa? In this course, students will be introduced to notions of orality and literacy, as well as the history of print culture in Africa and the co-existence of a plethora of media cultures which do not replace each other in any sort of straight line, particularly in African oral cultures and societies where people have on one side recorded texts by heart but also penned down a prolific amount of handwritten documents in their vernacular languages. Hence, texts and genres such as – poetry but also periodicals and booklets - will be seen in their fluidity across time and space and in their socio-historical context (mainly focused on Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa). Questions on how much a precise manuscript and print culture can tell us about the oral or written nature of a text will be investigated. Students will have the opportunity to see manuscripts and early printed booklets from special archive collections and understand the challenges of deciphering, editing and digitalizing them.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will:

  • Acquire critical knowledge of a text’s fluidity and variability in its written and oral forms;

  • Situate manuscript traditions within their cultural and socio-historical context;

  • Acquire critical knowledge of the history of books in Africa;

  • Acquire the skills to recognise oral features and references in a written text;

  • Acquire and practice techniques of critical text editions useful for the digital humanities;


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • take home-tentamen 20%

  • werkstuk, paper e.d. 60%

  • abstract, oral presentation 20%

Resit for any part that has been graded < 5,0

Reading list

The following list is indicative. Please consult the syllabus and the course shelf for more detailed information.

Karin, Barber. (2012). Print Culture and the First Yoruba Novel : I.B. Thomas's 'Life Story of Me, Segilola' and other texts

Eickelman, Dale F,Anderson, Jon W (1999). New Media in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere

Dammann, E. (1993). Afrikanische Handschriften

Dereck Peterson, Emma Hunter and Stephanie Newell (2016). African Print Cultures Newspaper and their publics in the twentieth century

Finnegan, R. (1974). “How Oral is Oral Literature?”
Ong, W. (1982). Orality and Literacy: the Technologizing of the Word
Pilatszewicz, S. (1985). “The Rise of Written Literatures in African Languages”

Lambertus Willem Cornelis van Lit (1997). Among Digitized Manuscripts. Philology, Codicology, Paleography in a Digital World


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration Contractonderwijs


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Reuvensplaats