Reading in Cape Town

This paper examines the reading cultures of Cape Town’s slaves, free blacks, and labourers (after emancipation in 1838) as common readers. It reveals how they used literacy practices to represent themselves and their world views. Primary sources include inventories, auction lists, censuses, official records, and a slave’s notebook. A special methodological feature is the use of records of organizations and institutions that provide evidence of reading. The Dutch East India Company (DEIC or VOC), a Slave Lodge school, Muslim religious schools, missionary societies, and book and tract societies proved fruitful for finding this evidence. I conclude that Michel De Certeau’s contrast between strategies and tactics in relation to the power relations of the reading cultures of common readers are too stark, and that in fact they tend to act upon each other more strongly in practice.

Common readers at the Cape (South Africa), c. 1650 to 1850 was presented by Archie L. Dick, professor of Information Science at the University of Pretoria.

Listen to the audio file of his talk.


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