Tunisian Librarians and the Book History of African Decolonization, 1956-1988

Episode 175

Tunisian Librarians and the Book History of African Decolonization, 1956-1988

After Tunisian independence in 1956, librarians confronted new questions about national culture, cultural development, and ongoing cultural decolonization after political independence. The Bibliothèque Nationale de Tunisie took on new missions in national bibliography and in the cataloguing of Tunisian and African publications; librarians organized their profession and struggled over its leadership; and scholars and students at Tunisia’s schools for information sciences conducted research in book history and in the sociology of literature. Their projects joined with similar efforts by librarians, book historians, and bibliographers across Africa to work through the history of colonization by France and the new needs of national independence in newly-independent nation-states. These Maghribi and African library histories show how decolonization reshaped book history in the twentieth century, as well as how librarians contributed to the invention of new ideas and practices of decolonization and development through books. 

In this episode, Alexander Baert Young, Ph.D. candidate in history at Johns Hopkins University and 2023 AIMS/CEMAT fellow, presents research he conducted in Tunisia during April-May 2023 at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Tunisie, the Archives Nationales de Tunisie, the Institut de Presse et des Sciences de l’Information, the Institut Supérieur de Documentation, the Fondation Temimi pour la Recherche Scientifique et l’Information, the CEMAT library, and Tunis’ used book sellers. 

Alexander Baert Young is a historian whose work connects African history, French history, and book history. As a PhD candidate in history at Johns Hopkins University, he is researching and writing his dissertation on African print culture in French and the twentieth-century "book revolution." In Tunis during April-May 2023, with support from AIMS and CEMAT, he conducted primary source research at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Tunisie,  the Archives Nationales de Tunisie, the Institut de Presse et des Sciences de l'Information, the Institut Supérieur de Documentation, the Fondation Temimi pour la Recherche Scientifique et l'Information, the CEMAT library, and Tunis' many used book sellers. This research in Tunisia will contribute to a multi-site project that aims to tell the connected stories of African publishers, librarians, bibliographers, cultural development experts, and media theorists in French-language contexts across Tunisia, Morocco, Cameroon, Senegal, and France. These "book people" theorized and practiced print culture as a battleground in post-independence struggles for "cultural decolonization" and "cultural development," and their stories can inform today's conversations about new media and decolonization.

This episode was recorded via Zoom on the 23rd of August, 2023 by the Centre d'Études Maghrébines à Tunis (CEMAT

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We thank Dr. Tamara Turner, Ethnomusicologist and Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for the History of Emotions, for her interpretation of Sidna Ali, from the  diwan repertoir.

Posted by Hayet Lansari, Librarian, Outreach Coordinator, Content Curator (CEMA).


Suggested Bibliography

Abid, Abdelaziz and Mohamed Benjelloun. “La formation des spécialistes de l’information au Maghreb et au Sénégal.” Bulletin des bibliothèques de France, no. 1 (1985): 62-67.


El Fekih, Moufida. “La S.T.D., support de la politique éducationnelle de la Tunisie.” Mémoire de fin d’études supérieures de journalisme, Institut de Presse et des Sciences de l’Information, Université de Tunis, 1976.


El Fekih, Salah. “L’Edition en Tunisie, un exemple : La M.T.E.” Mémoire de fin d’études supérieures de journalisme, Institut de Presse et des Sciences de l’Information, Université de Tunis, 1986.


Hendrickson, Burleigh. Decolonizing 1968: Transnational Student Activism in Tunis, Paris, and Dakar. Cornell University Press, 2022.


Kallander, Amy Aisen. Tunisia’s Modern Woman: Nation-Building and State Feminism in the Global 1960sCambridge University Press, 2021.


Kréfa, Abir. “La quête de l’autonomie littéraire en contexte autoritaire : Le cas des écrivains tunisiens.” Sociologie vol. 4 (2013): 395-411.


Le Roux, Beth. “Book History in the African World: The State of the Discipline.” Book History vol. 15 (2012): 248-300.


Leblay-Kinoshita, Anne. “Le dépôt légal colonial à la Bibliothèque nationale de l’entre-deux-guerres aux indépendances.” Paper presented at the Archives du Patrimoine Ecrit / Patrimoine Ecrit des Archives research seminar, Paris, France, March 2019.


“Livres : Entre faussaires et chercheurs d’or.” Special issue, Nawaat: Magazine Trimestriel Alternatif, no. 7 (October-December 2022).


Oswald, Hélène, and Pierre Jean Oswald. “Aujourd’hui Sartre débutant ne trouverait pas d’éditeur.” L’Unité, 3 December 1977.


Rebhi, Mohamed. “La Bibliothèque nationale et le contrôle bibliographique de la production intellectuelle écrite en Tunisie de 1956 à 1985.” Thèse nouveau régime, Université Lumière Lyon 2, 1988.


Shepard, Todd. “Challenging Censorship: European Publishers During the Algerian Revolution.” The Funambulist, no. 22 (March-April 2019): 18-23. https://thefunambulist.net/magazine/22-publishing-struggle/challenging-censorship-european-publishers-algerian-revolution-todd-shepard


Shepard, Todd. “Comment disséminer les leçons algériennes ? Nils Anderson et la naissance du ‘Tiers-mondisme’ 1957-1969.” Maghrib in Past & Present/Centre d’Études Maghrébines en Algérie and Centre de Recherche en Anthropologie Sociale et Culturelle podcast, 31 January 2023, https://www.themaghribpodcast.com/2023/03/comment-disseminer-les-lecons.html.


Tolan-Szkilnik, Paraska. Maghreb Noir: The Militant-Artists of North Africa and the Struggle for a Pan-African, Postcolonial Future. Stanford University Press, 2023.



Slide 1:   Colloque maghrébin, Hammamet, novembre 1972 : Une approche des problèmes du livre et de la lecture, Cahier 1(Tunis: Institut National des Sciences de l’Education, 1973). BNT cote E-8-101185.

Slide 2: Informations Bibliographiques vol. 10, no. 1 (1975). BNT cote E-FOL-4180.

Slide 3: Bibliothèque Nationale de Tunisie, Africana 4: Mauritanie, Mali, Niger, Tchad, Sénégal, H. Volta, Dah., Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun, R.C.A., Congo, Gabon: Fonds de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Tunisie (Nouveau Catalogue) (Tunis, [1976]). BNT cote E-4-26593.

Slide 4: Revue Tunisienne de Communication, no. 7 (January-June 1985). Purchased from bookseller Ayed Marouani, Tunis.

Slide 5: Abdelkader Ben Cheikh, Communication et société : Pouvoir lire, éducation et développement culturel, Publications du Centre de Recherche en Bibliothéconomie et Sciences de l’Information no. 12 (Tunis: Institut Supérieur de Documentation, 1986). Purchased from bookseller Ayed Marouani, Tunis.


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