Oral Literature in Africa

Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa, Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, 2012

Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa, Oxford University Press, 1970

616 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2013

Date Written: 1970


“Besides being a goldmine for scholars, [Oral Literature in Africa] is a delight for the general reader…The people and animals and spirits of Africa live, laugh, weep and quarrel between the covers of this book.” — Journal of African and Asian Studies.

First published in 1970 by Oxford University Press, this classic study has been hailed as "the single most authoritative work on oral literature”. It traces the history of story-telling in Africa, and brings to life the diverse forms of creativity across the African continent. Author Ruth Finnegan is thought to have “almost single-handedly created the field of ethnography of language” with this book, and it continues to be a go-to text for anyone studying African culture.

However, despite its enormous scope and popularity, Finnegan’s book is now out of print. It is particularly hard to find in Africa, where its original retail price was beyond the budget of most university libraries. The non-profit organization Open Book Publishers is endeavoring to make this definitive book freely available to African students and scholars — and indeed to any interested readers around the world. The Unglued Ebook will be particularly friendly to people in places with slow Internet connections: once a copy is downloaded, the book can be read offline.

This edition, developed in conjunction with Cambridge University’s World Oral Literature Project, will include a new introduction and extra digital material. When Finnegan’s book was first published forty years ago, the technology did not exist to include audio clips. Part of this Unglue campaign will involve the creation of a free online repository of Finnegan’s audio recordings of African story-telling, carefully collected during her fieldwork in the late 1960s. A sample from this collection can be found here. It demonstrates the richness of the audio material that will be made available for the first time as part of this campaign. These clips, together with original photographs taken during her research, will be an invaluable resource to scholars of African literature and culture.

After decades of outstanding research, for which she was awarded an Order of the British Empire, Oral Literature in Africa remains the book closest to Finnegan’s heart. “It was so frustrating to me that my book has been largely unavailable to readers in Africa,” she says. “It is wonderful to think that it will now be freely read in the very continent it discusses.”

Suggested Citation

Finnegan, Ruth, Oral Literature in Africa (1970). Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa, Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, 2012, Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa, Oxford University Press, 1970, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2232995

Ruth Finnegan (Contact Author)

The Open University ( email )

Walton Hall
Milton Keynes, MK6 7AA
United Kingdom

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