Rediscovering a Collection of Nigerian Pamphlets

Friday, February 6, 2015
Simon Ottenberg Collection, Hoover Institution Library

Simon Ottenberg Collection, Hoover Institution Library
Simon Ottenberg Collection, Hoover Institution Library

Simon Ottenberg was an anthropologist and faculty member at the University of Washington, Seattle, from 1955 to 1991, where he specialized in West Africa, southeastern Nigeria in particular. In the course of carrying out field research in Nigeria in 1952–53, 1959–60, and during a visit there in the summer of 1966, he collected many published materials, including pamphlets, booklets, serials, government documents, and other types of publications. His collection of materials was filmed in 1970 to create the Simon Ottenberg Collection

The publications in the collection are mainly of Nigerian origin, although also included are a few items of interest published elsewhere. The pamphlets and other materials appeared mainly between 1940 and 1965, although a few items published later were added. The collection includes a large number of works published in the old Eastern Region of Nigeria and written by people of Ibo background. Many of the pamphlets he collected are known collectively as Onitsha Market Literature. Those booklets, often written in pidgin English or Creole, were popular literature and have become an important reflection of the social lives and customs of Nigeria at midcentury. Although collections of Onitsha Market Literature are available elsewhere (for example, University of Indiana has 170 titles, the University of Kansas lists 101 titles [21 digitized], and the Digital Library of the Caribbean had digitized 21), this microfilm collection presents a wide number of otherwise unavailable or difficult-to-obtain titles.

The Hoover Institution Library has acquired two microfilm sets of the Simon Ottenberg Collection. Both sets appear to have been originally filmed by Cascade Microfilm Systems of Seattle, Washington.  The one set (also held by four other institutions), however, was made up of fourteen reels, was accompanied by a list of contents referred to as an index. The second set was initially thought to be a duplicate of the first although made up of seventen reels. Only one library (University of Washington) in WorldCat lists a seventeen- reel set of the Ottenberg Collection.

On closer examination, it was discovered that the seventeen-reel set included titles not found in the fourteen-reel set. Conversely, however, some titles in the fourteen-reel set were not included in the seventeen-reel set. Also discovered were some pamphlets and other materials from both sets not listed in the accompanying list of contents.

The Hoover Institution has now created yet a third microfilm set (composed of eighteen reels) by combining all the titles on both microfilm sets. The accompanying list of contents has been reworked and updated, with two addenda to reflect the additional titles not listed in the original.

Here is a brief overview of the pamphlets, some of which can be viewed in our slideshow, available in the collection:

  • How to do it booklets: 14
  • Literature: 63
  • History, society, culture: 110
  • Politics and social change: 79
  • Addendum to history: 5
  • Addendum to social change: 49
  • Total: 320