Imperial Travelers: The Formation of West African Urban Culture, Identity, and Citizenship in London and Accra, 1925-1935.

At the end of the First World War, increasing numbers of West Africans traveled to London to pursue degrees in higher education. Their educational experiences abroad presented new political and social opportunities. While living in London, and later as members of West Africa’s urban and educated elite, these students founded a West African public sphere of clubs and newspapers in which they attempted to form a modern West African nation and subject. This dissertation is an historical study of this process as it developed in London and Accra between 1925 and 1935. As these students traveled between metropolitan, colonial and African spaces, they engaged in a type of “imperial citizenship” that involved using the institutions of public spheres, empires, and nations, and blending concepts of modern governments and citizenship, internationalism and co-operation, national self-determination, self-help, and racial equality to create an increasingly empowered position for West Africa within the Empire. The nation they envisioned stood in sharp contrast to the political structures associated with British colonial policies of indirect rule. Their nation was to be a singular, self-governing, united West African nation. At its core would be an educated citizenry of men and women, and critically, a monogamous couple and nuclear family. In London, the students’ political endeavors focused on the establishment of a West African presence within the Empire and the international community through the founding of the West African Students’ Union. In Accra, the students struggled to create “modern” subjects out of a diverse group of locally-educated Africans whose modernity would legitimize their claim for self-government. They used the newspapers and clubs of Accra to “educate” locally-educated men and women about how to be “West Africans.” These efforts included newspaper articles on appropriate dress and behavior in public, alongside examples of “respectable” courtship practices and marriages. Their advice to readers on how to be citizens of West Africa met with fierce resistance that involved heated debates in the press between former WASU members and locally-educated readers on gender, love, marriage, and family—issues that I argue were central to western-educated West Africans’ articulation of nationhood and citizenship.

Read the full thesis online at Deepblue.


Publication Type Thesis
Publisher Deep Blue
Year 2008
Author(s) Jinny Kathleen Prais
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