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Utilitarian Pleasures: Print Culture and the Development of a Reading Public in Southwestern Nigeria


Beginning with Christian missionary efforts to create a standardized Yoruba print language in the mid-nineteenth century, the Yoruba-speaking region of southwestern Nigeria was rapidly integrated into a network of print production that spanned the Atlantic Ocean. The emergence of a local reading public engendered the desire of administrative and religious stakeholder agencies to dictate the development of a print culture in southwestern Nigeria. These agencies saw their work on the production and dissemination of literature as a political and moral investment in the region, one that would pay dividends with the development of a Yoruba reading public whose worldview aligned with their own. This dissertation examines the strategies used by missionaries, philanthropists and government administrators to control how and what Nigerians read, from the colonial period through independent rule and up to the economic collapse of the 1980s. It argues that independent Nigerian governments echoed the desires of earlier agencies that literature be used to teach moral lessons or practical skills, with the aim being the education of a nationalized citizenry. Utilizing missionary and government archives, along with publisher interviews and library records, I show the extensive human and monetary resources invested in influencing a Nigerian reading public under both colonial and independent rule. The dissertation concludes that the readers of English and Yoruba literature who composed this localized public accepted the instructional agenda being disseminated through print and ultimately embraced the utilitarian pleasures of their books.

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