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Readers Guide


You will probably already have noticed that the table of contents—the home page—for this electronic book looks different from those of standard scholarly monographs and other print books and, perhaps, of other history books published electronically in the Gutenberg-e series or elsewhere. For one thing, although this book is divided into chapterlike sections, they are not labelled as "chapters"; and in the table of contents these sections are displayed not in a single orderly column but in a somewhat irregular grid, with vertical and horizontal rows of thumbnail images (twelve in total, each representing a section of text) intended to convey the nonlinear yet interconnected quality of the book as a whole. For another thing, this table of contents features pictures more prominently than it does words. Each section of the book has a title that identifies its contents (e.g., "Mapping Magude"), but that title relies on an accompanying image (in the case of "Mapping Magude," a 1940s archaeological map of southern Mozambique) to reveal the content of the section more fully than would be possible through words alone.


Why complicate the opening page of an e-book this way? Unlike some other recent electronic publications in history, this book was not "born digital." 1 Its origins lie in a doctoral dissertation researched and written (on paper) several years before historians began crafting scholarship with cyberspace in mind. That dissertation contained six chapters, arranged in roughly chronological order, between a sprawling introduction and a wispy conclusion, the latter more a formality than a substantive ending to the text. Even back then, the arguments I wanted to make about women and history in Magude fit awkwardly with the conventions of academic history and the print monograph. There really was no singular beginning or end to my story, nor could the middle be narrated in a straight line: The study's subject, the relational practices whereby rural Mozambican women remember and communicate the past, was too varied, both in form and in angle of interpretation, to be subordinated neatly to any one rendering of their lives. Yet neither could I construe this history as multivocal or multivalent, as a set of parallel and/or contending voices, narratives, or meanings of Mozambique's past. 2 That approach would have required unravelling threads so tightly wound as to be practically inseparable—and for starters, try as I might, I was not able to disentangle myself from the story.

The opportunity to reshape my thesis for digital publication forced me to confront questions I had managed to sidestep while writing in and for the medium of print. The most challenging of these questions involved the idea of history itself—history as the women of Magude articulated and enacted it, as I understood it, and as together we cautiously created some of our own. Not only did they and I know the past differently, but our respective ways of knowing the past existed and unfolded, individually and collectively, in particular circumstances of place and time. On the one hand, during the years spent researching and writing this book, I continued to learn more about the meaning of history in Magude. On the other hand, the material conditions of that history—who produced it, and why and how; who controlled it, and for what ends—continued to change. While there is nothing extraordinary here (in fact, I would argue that all historians face this dilemma), we rarely acknowledge such contingency in our scholarship, perhaps in part because the medium in which we have published requires us to make more permanent, more authoritative claims. The electronic environment, though, invites (in my experience, demands) greater epistemological candor. Certainly, as others have noted, e-publication enables historians to share their sources with readers and thus opens scholarly analysis to wider, more participatory debate. 3 But the truly radical potential of cyber-history rests in its power to expose the social basis—the ineluctably dynamic and located subjectivity—of historical analysis and in the power of historians to translate this self-exposure into creative new paradigms for constructing the past.

The table of contents for this e-book, then, maps my analysis of Magude women's histories as an interpretive journey we undertook together, not simultaneously or identically but as equally invested tellers and makers of knowledge of the region's past. Its grid format attempts to mimic some of the relational and historical underpinnings of that analysis; at the same time, it outlines multiple routes you may take when reading the text. The vertical divisions of the grid, indicated here, represent temporal and conceptual phases of our journey, our movements through time but also through stages of deepening mutual comprehension and relationship. From top to bottom, the grid's horizontal divisions mark consecutive levels of research, following the typical (in reality, less tidy) progression from ideas through methodology to scrutiny and interpretation of historical evidence. (Alternatively, a bottom-to-top view suggests an architectural metaphor of floors or stories, with an evidentiary ground floor propping up the analytical and ultimately theoretical claims of the higher floors). Of course, both sets of divisions are imperfect and, to a certain degree, artificial, reflecting distinctions I began to see clearly only through the lens of distance and hindsight. And while the two-dimensional layout of the book's contents hints (I hope) at the complexity of its argument, the linear arrangement of icons along both axes belies the circuitous nature of at least my own intellectual travels, as impossible to chart with precision in the digital medium as in print.

Although as author I take full responsibility for this organizational scheme and the analytical perspective that underlies it, in more ways than one this particular e-book is a hybrid. My itinerary and work schedule define the chronology of the three columns, but Magude women's words and actions—even in memory—give each temporal phase its unique content. The three horizontal levels took shape initially as (top to bottom) a conventional prologue, introduction, and set of chapters; it was only when I grew tired of struggling to write a "proper" conclusion that I understood the fundamentally recursive nature of the book's arguments and began to sketch an electronic cover page that might capture a notion of history I had never articulated in print. Oddly enough, despite my efforts to imagine a new presentation strategy for the chapter-sections themselves (the bottom level, or ground floor, of the current table of contents), in the end they adapted quite naturally, in their original order, to the revised design. As a survey of the range of official written and oral sources on the area's history (at least, those sources available to me in 1995-96), "Mapping Magude" stands apart from the other five sections in this row and belongs in the first column, where it functions to explain tendencies in the region's historiography and certain elements of my own pre-fieldwork point of view, which are discussed in the two sections that vertically precede it. The four sections clustered at the bottom of the middle column, from "Locating a Woman's Life" to "Boundaries of Beauty," share several key qualities: All explore distinctly (often defiantly) feminine forms of historical remembering, all show women's longing for an idealized prewar past in which to anchor themselves in a dishevelled postwar world, and all recount histories that women not only wanted to pass on but wanted to pass on to me—for, by participating in their memories, I legitimized and reproduced them, serving their authors' purpose as historians no less than they served mine. As illustrations of women's alternative or counterpoint to official ways of knowing their past, these sections—on naming practices, life-storytelling, pottery, and body-marking—offer a compelling series of backstories for the fieldwork experiences I describe in the preceding sections of the column. More importantly, these four portions of text make up the narrative and analytical core of the book.

The order in which these sections appear, however, reflects significant variations in their content and accounts for both the separate placement of "'I'll Bury You in the Border!'" and the different internal organization of the long middle chapter-section, "Based on a True Story." As you read left to right in the table of contents, the histories you see in each of the four sections rely less on language or narrative, more on visual representation and/or bodily practice; become increasingly private in their intended audience, increasingly coded or secretive in their expression; and depart progressively more from ways of history—and forms of rural African community—familiar to Western scholars. Not coincidentally, each also brings us a step closer to the present, though never beyond the beginning of Mozambique's civil war. Only in "'I'll Bury You in the Border!'" do women's memories—here, etched in the boundaries of their cultivated fields—directly address the circumstances of postwar Magude, making dramatically clear the real, very "binding" power of their histories over the survival of rural women even in the present day. And only during the research for this section did I encounter among women visible unease (and, once, conflict) over whether I should be privy to their historical knowledge: Land memories, and the extensive but tenuous relational networks they sustained, could be dangerous if not guarded with care, especially from strangers.

At every stage in the writing of this e-book (and the dissertation before it) I wrestled with the problem of my own narrative form: How does a thoroughly "Western" academic historian present in writing (electronic or otherwise) historical knowledge that comes in the shape of a clay pot or a line in the soil and that obeys imperatives different from her own? Only for "Based on a True Story," the section on women's life-storytelling, could I look to existing Africanist scholarship for models of historical narrative shaped by women's manner of communicating knowledge of the past in the context of a specific present. Although, as I explain there, none of these models perfectly fit the culture of female storytelling I found in Magude, collectively they raised a crucial but tricky question: To what extent can or should academic historians subordinate their subjects' conventions of historical narrative to the formal conventions of their discipline? Should I follow Western custom and highlight the individual identities and experiences of the women featured as life-storytellers, when the women themselves tended to downplay or deny their individuality; or should I somehow embed these women and their stories in the social universe to which they self-consciously belonged? The structural design of "Based on a True Story" offers a compromise solution much like the book's overall table of contents: another grid mapping vertical and horizontal paths through the section—in this case, vertical for readers interested in individualized, chronological portrayals of each woman's life, and horizontal for readers seeking to focus on the genre and purpose of women's life-storytelling in Magude.

Within each of the twelve main sections of text, there are navigational diagrams and menus (to remind you of possible reading routes) along with several types of supplementary material: images (maps, photographs, drawings, charts), sound clips (interview excerpts), source documents (archival evidence, published writings, interview transcripts in Shangaan, Portuguese, or English), hyperlinks to relevant Internet sources, and pages from my fieldwork journals, notes, and sketches. In some instances, such as the photos of Magude's postwar landscape or the recorded voices of the three women featured in "Based on a True Story," I include this material to enhance your visual or audio experience of that portion of the book. Elsewhere—for example, the sound clips in "'Everyone Has Her Own Hand'" and "Boundaries of Beauty," or the images and texts in "Mapping Magude"—these supplements contribute in essential ways to the argument of that section and to the meaning of the e-book as a whole. With additional resources and time I might have been tempted to incorporate even more of this material, especially a greater proportion of the hundreds of interview recordings and transcripts I drew on for my analysis. However, doing so would have produced a different book; my priority here was not to stuff this site with the "raw material" of my research but to demonstrate, as fully as possible, how women in rural Magude have created and communicated their histories through networks of relationships like the ones they developed with my two assistants and me.

Links across the very top of the screen and a row of icons just below them to the left provide access to a number of broader functions and e-book-related resources. The links "Home," "Print," and "Help" links are self-explanatory. "Search" leads to a full-text search engine for the entire book, "Links" lists websites useful for situating (and teaching) women's histories of Magude in a wider context, and "References" contains links for abbreviations, the bibliography, a chronology (a timeline of Mozambican history from circa 1800 to the present), a glossary, and interviews (listed alphabetically). The glossary and chronology also appear in the row of icons, where you can access them directly along with chapter indexes of audio files, images, primary-source texts, and maps. Like the links at the top of the screen, you can click on these icons from the home page (table of contents) or from any other point inside the book.

* * * * *

I have tried to secure permission for all copyrighted (or otherwise legally protected) textual and visual materials used on this site. However, in some cases either I have not been able to identify the copyright holder or my efforts to communicate with the copyright holder have not been successful. I would be most grateful to readers who notice any omissions in this regard and are able to direct me to the individual(s) or institutions(s) from whom I should seek permission for particular materials.


Many readers will wonder, legitimately, about issues of permission and privacy with respect to the elderly women whose experiences, words, and sometimes voices constitute the heart and foundation of this book. Partly in anticipation of such concerns, I try throughout the book—but especially in "Mementos" and "Meeting Women and History in Magude"—to explain the relationships I and my assistants, Aida and Ruti, developed with these women as we "courted" them (Ruti's term) in order to secure their permission to be interviewed. These relationships obviously depended on an enormous degree of trust, and I have been careful to avoid writing or doing anything in this book that would violate that trust as I believe we jointly understood it. During my time in Magude I did not know I would later be revising my dissertation for electronic publication; the oral permissions I obtained from women, which included permission to refer to them by name, mentioned print publication only. If I had been able to return to Magude to confirm the willingness of the women to release their histories online, I suspect many of them would have regarded it as a wasted trip—print book or e-book, either way they would know that the written product of our work together was inaccessible to them. But this unfinished business bothers me, as I expect it bothers some of you. Perhaps the most extraordinary advantage of electronic history for Africa, though, will prove to be precisely its qualities as a living and interactive medium. Perhaps one day I will return to Magude, laptop and (somehow) Internet at hand, and invite these women, or more likely their daughters and granddaughters, to teach me how their history-telling should really be done.


Note 1: Or, as Robert Townsend puts it, "built [electronically] 'from the ground up'." See Robert B. Townsend, "All of Tomorrow's Yesterdays: History Scholarship on the Web," Perspectives (May 2002), Townsend showcases Philip J. Ethington's "Los Angeles and the Problem of Urban Historical Knowledge" (American Historical Review [December 2000], ) as a model of "foundational" electronic scholarship.  Back.

Note 2: One of the best examples of this approach to history (in print) remains Paul A. Cohen's History in Three Keys: the Boxer Rebellion as Event, Experience, and Myth (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998). For a digital example, see David Westbrook, "From Hogan's Alley to Coconino County: Four Narratives of the Early Comic Strip,"  Back.

Note 3: See Robert Darnton, "The New Age of the Book," New York Times Review of Books (18 March 1999), and Sean M. Quinlan, "With Darnton into Cyberspace: The AHR's New Avatar," Perspectives (March 2000),  Back.


Binding Memories: Women as Makers and Tellers of History in Magude, Mozambique