Monday, July 12, 2010

An Africana Library Goes To The World Cup

South African Puppets Representing
Two National Soccer Teams
Participating In The 2010 World Cup
(All Images Courtesy Of Northwestern University Libraries.)

The first World Cup soccer tournament ever to take place on the African continent has focused the eyes of sports fans around the globe on South Africa. The United States is one of the few nations in the world yet to fully embrace "the beautiful game." But even Americans are becoming soccer fans at long last, thanks to their own nation's inspiring performance in this year's tourney, making it to the round of sixteen.

This year's World Cup final, between the Netherlands and Spain, is expected to be the most watched sporting event ever televised. This places South Africa at the center of the sporting universe, and in the brightest media spotlight ever shown on an African nation. All of which prompted the largest library on the planet dedicated exclusively to the study of Africana to begin a new collection of 2010 World Cup memorabilia.

A Hand Woven World Cup Rug,
Made From Recycled Plastic Bags.

The Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies is located at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. And if it seems strange that the finest collection of Africana on the globe should be located in suburban Chicago, the reason for its location is no mystery. The ground-breaking work of a single anthropologist, for whom the library is named, is what brought this extensive and unique collection about the Southern Hemisphere's largest continent to the Land of Lincoln.

Melville J. Herskovits.

Melville Jean Herkovits (1895-1963) was the child of European Jewish immigrants, who spent a large portion of his adolescence in El Paso, Texas. Needless to say, this gave him a first-hand taste of what it meant to be an isolated outsider in a culture that was nearly 100% Christian at the time. Perhaps this is what drew him to the then relatively new scholarly field of anthropology, and to specialize in the study of the effect of Africa's evolutionary past on present day African-American culture and social organization. Herskovits was one of the first scholars to recognize that African culture was deserving of academic attention and respect, at a time when the prevailing attitude was that European culture was superior to that of the nations the West had colonized.

Close-Up Of A Fleece Blanket
Featuring The Team Nickname Of South Africa.
(Bafana Bafana is a term of endearment meaning The Boys.)

Herskovits founded the Northwestern School of Anthropology in 1938, after earning degrees from the University of Chicago and Columbia University. He created the first Program of African Studies in the United States, and became its chairman. It is these remarkable accomplishments that led the Illinois University to name the Africana Library in his honor. The Library's collections are an unrivaled resource for scholars of African Studies. Its holdings include 285,00o monographs, 2,800 current serials, 250 current newspapers, and 5,000 non-circulating rare books. Specialized materials in 300 African languages are available, along with archival and manuscript collections, and extensive collections of ephemera, maps, posters, videos, photographs, and all manner of Africa-related memorabilia.

Is Someone At The Library As Psychic As Paul The Octopus?
This photo was posted on July 1,
But Features Puppets Representing The Two Teams
In The July 11 World Cup Final.

Which brings us back to the new 2010 World Cup collection. Included in the collection are books, magazines, comic books, music CDs, official African team jerseys, commemorative items such as textiles, puppets, hats, scarves, dolls, mugs, toys, and even the brand new Jabulani World Cup Soccer Ball, ("Jabulani" means "celebrate" in Zulu.) and, of course, many examples of vuvuzelas. (Vuvuzelas are the horns which are the source of that pervasive mosquito-like drone which has, for better or for worse, become the soundtrack for every match in the 2010 World Cup.)

South African Souvenir Glasses,
A Vuvuzela-blowing Puppet Representing Brazil,
And At Rear A Beautiful Handbeaded Vuvuzela.

The Melville J. Herkovits Library has already created an in-house exhibit of soccer related items, called Africana Celebrates the World Cup. (Photographs of many of the items are available online from the Library's Facebook page.) "Our mandate is to collect anything that relates to Africa, and this is an important event. It's the first time the World Cup is being played on African soil. And so many people in Africa play soccer. It is something anyone can afford to play," noted Esmeralda M. Nkweta Kale, the library's bibliographer of Africana. Kale's home country is The Republic of Cameroon, and it is well represented in the collection, as are all African teams in the tournament, and even non-African countries participating in the event.

The Official World Cup Jersey Of Team Cameroon,
Nicknamed Les Lions Indomptables.

And the end of the World Cup won't be the end of the collection. Items from enthusiasts around the globe will continue to be added to the institution's documentation of this historic African milestone. Let's just hope they keep those vuvuzelas in a locked case. Or at least tell visitors that horn-blowing may be acceptable at the stadium, but nobody wants that unceasing wail to become the soundtrack of the Melville J. Herskovits Africana Library.

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