Friday, May 18, 2012

Raising money to free classic volume on Africa's oral literature

A campaign on is seeking to raise $7,500 to pay for a Creative Commons Attribution-only licensed edition of Oral Literature in Africa, an out-of-print classic on the subject that is widely sought by African libraries. Once the money is raised, they will produce the new edition and make it widely available.

First published in 1970 by Oxford University Press, this classic study has been hailed as 'the single most authoritative work on oral literature’. It traces the history of story-telling in Africa, and brings to life the diverse forms of creativity across the African continent. Author Ruth Finnegan is thought to have ‘almost single-handedly created the field of ethnography of language’ with this book, and it continues to be a go-to text for anyone studying African culture.

However, despite its enormous scope and popularity, Finnegan’s book is now out of print. It is particularly hard to find in Africa, where its original retail price was beyond the budget of most university libraries. The non-profit organization Open Book Publishers is endeavoring to make this definitive book freely available to African students and scholars — and indeed to any interested readers around the world. The Unglued Ebook will be particularly friendly to people in places with slow Internet connections: once a copy is downloaded, the book can be read offline.

This edition, developed in conjunction with Cambridge University’s World Oral Literature Project, will include a new introduction and extra digital material. When Finnegan’s book was first published forty years ago, the technology did not exist to include audio clips. Part of this Unglue campaign will involve the creation of a free online repository of Finnegan’s audio recordings of African story-telling, carefully collected during her fieldwork in the late 1960s. These clips, together with original photographs taken during her research, will become available for the first time to researchers everywhere — an invaluable resource to scholars of African literature and culture.

Oral Literature in Africa

(Via Boing Boing.)

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