My project, Mapping Consumers in the Black South African Press, is now live at this address!

Mapping Consumers is built with data I collected from two South African newspapers, Bantu World and Umlindi we Nyanga in the 1930s. The 1930s were an important period in the history of South African newspaper, advertising, and consumer culture. This was the period when white-owned consumer products companies began sustained advertising campaigns in newspapers for black South African readers. Testimonial advertisements in these papers offer a window onto who the consumers of these products were, how they imagined themselves as consumers, and how advertisers wanted to represent the ideal, “modern” African consumer.

The main feature of my project is the map, which is the first thing you see when you visit the site.

Mapping Consumers Home Page

Each marker on the map represents one testimonial advertisement. Clicking on the marker brings up a popup with information about: the testimonial-writer’s name, address and gender; the product; the date; and a short excerpt of the testimonial text. The Zoom to Full Extent button allows you to return to the original map view after zooming in to a particular area. A search bar in the top navigation bar allows you to search for testimonial writers’ names. The panel on the right side of the page allows you to toggle between the data sets of the two newspapers. The site also has an About section with more detailed information about the site, the significance of the project, and my methods. A Metadata tab in the About page allows you to download the geoJSON files on which the map is based.

I built this site using the Bootleaf template developed by Brian McBride, which is freely available on Github. Beginning with a template like Bootleaf was both my greatest challenge and my greatest advantage in this project. I had very little experience with Javascript when I began, and looking at the JS template was at first confusing and overwhelming. However, once I had learned a few basics through trial and error, I was able to rely on the built-in structure of Bootleaf and simply add my own data and make minor tweaks to meet my needs. I also learned how to use Mapbox, although I had originally planned to geo-reference a period-appropriate historical map. However, I was not successful in finding a useable map from the early twentieth century.

Making this site has helped me to understand my own research material better, and ask new questions about consumer culture and advertising in segregation-era South Africa. For example, why do a greater proportion of testimonial advertisements feature women (55% of testimonials in Bantu World and 73% in Umlindi we Nyanga)? In building the current iteration of the map, I’ve also begun to consider some of the improvements that would make this site even more useful for understanding popular culture in 1930s South Africa: a search bar that fully searches the entire text of the advertisements; a period map; layers that allow users to view testimonials by gender, or by urban/rural location rather than only by newspaper.

I have found the process of building this map useful for my own research, as my dissertation proposal is about consumption and gender in twentieth-century South Africa. I hope that this map will also be useful to others who are interested in print culture, consumer culture, and newspapers in South African history. I believe that this map, by showing the wide geographical spread of testimonial-writers, and the wide variety of products about which they wrote, makes the case for testimonials as an important source for understanding the history of consumption in South Africa.