Visit by Mandela Washington Fellows

One week ago, more than a dozen young participants in the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders hosted by Florida International University during their visit to South Florida came to The Wolfsonian.

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After taking them on a guided tour of the galleries, I brought them into the museum’s rare book and special collections library to peruse a display of some materials related to sub-Saharan Africa.

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Given that The Wolfsonian’s collection is focused primarily on the period 1850 to 1950, much of what we have related to the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa derives from a colonialist context. There is, for example, a wealth of material documenting various colonial enterprises and imperial conflicts; propaganda produced for colonial expositions; and advertising brochures using representations of welcoming natives to convince European tourists to visit their colonies in Africa. From a number of these works, however, we were able to tease out some glimpses into the lives of the indigenous peoples of the African continent.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Some of the materials pulled from the library stacks included original sketchbooks, journals, and unique photograph albums created by European troops stationed in the African colonies. While many of the photographs and written records focused on the soldiers and their mission, some of the authors showed an interest in the lives of the colonial troops and the material culture of the native peoples.

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Original sketch of Somaliland by C.H.P., illustrator for the London Graphic, 1887

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

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Photograph album of British Army soldier, C.M.E. Wilson, South Africa, 1900-1901

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

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Original sketches of African and German soldiers from Helden in Afrika, 1901

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Propaganda glorifying the Italian Fascist government’s invasion and attempted colonization of East African are well documented in the collection, and some recently catalogued materials sparked the interest of one of the visitors hailing from Ethiopia.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchases

One rather naïvely optimistic postcard illustrated by Aurelio Bertiglia imagined a kneeling Ethiopian child watching Italian children in colonial uniform painting a map of Ethiopia in the colors of the Italian flag!

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Steve Heller

In addition to stereotypical depictions of subservient Ethiopians, a recently digitized Italian portfolio includes surprisingly culturally sensitive and positive representations of some indigenous individuals.

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 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

The Mandela Washington fellows also had the opportunity to see how African natives and cultures were presented—and sometimes misrepresented—in architecture, publications, and other printed ephemeral formats produced for colonial exhibitions, or to promote colonial foods and products.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The Portuguese published a number of colonial exposition catalogs showing off their “little” empire with illustrations of the peoples inhabiting their colonial possessions in Africa.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Similarly, the tiny country of Belgium projected its own importance on the world stage by producing collecting cards representing its huge colony in the heart of Africa.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca

The Wolfsonian–FIU Library also holds tens of thousands of printed promotional materials documenting the rise of colonial tourism and the cruise-ship industry. Steamship companies used brochures and illustrated menu covers to excite interest in the African colonies and their “exotic” inhabitants.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

~ by "The Chief" on July 8, 2017.

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