Falling in archival love – Emagusheni trading station
My great fallings in love with letter collections to date have been with the far-flung Schreiner letters and more recently the Forbes Family letters and related papers in Pretoria. A similar feeling of entrancement has occurred regarding the papers of the Emagusheni trading station, in Durban’s Killie Campbell library. They run from 1880 to c1930 and Emagusheni was located in what was then called Pondoland, Eastern Cape. Letters are either a minority or a majority component of the collection, depending, for most are documents that hover at the borders of being letters and being something else, and do so in thought-provoking ways. Some are written by very literate black people from Pondoland, in ordering goods, opening accounts, paying bills. Those from white people cluster – either very literate, or barely able to put pen to paper. The large majority of the documents rely on the structural form of ‘the letter’, while the content sandwiched between address and sign-off may be worlds away from the epistolary as conventionally viewed or may be four-square observant. But they all ‘do the business’ in hand and are appropriate to purpose, which was to make the quotidian happen in ways sought by the writers and their addressees. Reading the course of things unfolding is irresistible. In Eliasian terms, this is the minute sub-strata of sociogenesis in its representational form.
Last updated: 15 December 2016