A history of the Kano Book Market, c. 1920-2020

Doctoral Thesis


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By borrowing both empirical and conceptual tools from book history, this dissertation documents the history of the Kano Book Market (KBM) in northern Nigeria. Its sources are drawn from archives, private and public records, oral histories, and "printed manuscripts" (religious tracts retaining manuscript features but printed using offset lithographic technique). The dissertation's main thrust is to document how colonial legacies shaped book traditions well into the post-colonial period. Particular emphasis, however, is given to the book market, which encapsulates the other components of the "book cycle." The dissertation argues that the colonial infrastructure and facilities such as the rail lines, the printing presses and the Kano Airport built in 1936 provided the impetus for the emergence of internal and regional Islamic and Hausa book trade. The Islamic book trade, in particular, was pioneered by a section of Muslim scholars mainly based in Kano whose main goal was to publish Arabic books which circulated for centuries in northern Nigeria and other areas of West and Central Africa as part of the local curriculum in Islamic schools. The dissertation explores the dynamics of relations between these publishers and practitioners, such as printers, lithographers, copyists and authors. Most of the extant literature on Arabic printing and book distribution has focused on Arab cities such as Cairo and Beirut as the global centres of Islamic literature while silencing sub-Saharan Africa. To address this gap, the dissertation, by relying on primary records in private and public collections, demonstrates that the KBM, while importing Islamic books from the Arab countries, was a regional entrepot for Islamic book distribution in West and Central Africa, thus serving as a conduit linking Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, Kano played the role of a regional hub for the distribution of the Hausa popular fiction.