As my first ever online publication, for academic purposes at least, I knew from the start that this piece would necessarily be different to any work I had done before. While I have found the experience overall a positive one, I do have some comments on areas which proved challenging with regards to the usual expectations when crafting a paper. I will then end with some reflections about why I believe that online publications like this are an important pioneering front in the field of humanities and history in particular, as well as suggesting why using music as a source of historical knowledge can be a positive thing for African historiography.


Beginning with the challenges faced, the most obvious and immediate obstacle was the language barrier. The entirety of Bassy’s album is in Bassa, which is a unique enough language to not appear on any sort of online translation tool. Whilst initially beginning to organise for a specialist in the Bassa tongue to come and help me translate the lyrics, I was aided greatly by Bassy putting up English lyric translations on each of his videos, meaning I simply had to copy the English transcripts for these to get the basis of my paper. Yet this is not where my linguistic struggles end. Due to the French influence on much of Cameroon, many of the secondary literature which I reviewed was available primarily in French, which although more easily translatable than Bassa, still added extra time to the retrieval of information. 


The creation of this paper on WordPress was a further hurdle, as while I had created blog posts for companies during an internship, I had never created anything this comprehensive on such a platform. The formatting proved a constant hassle, as unforeseen to me microscopic changes that I made seemed to alter whole sections of my work when previewed. Although I can gladly say that by the time, I was editing the final sections, I found myself much mire comfortable with the process. The situation with the copyright status of most pictures that I desired to use for my work was also quite taxing, as the variety of pictures on free to use websites is severely limited, especially when you are looking for something as obscure as a UPC flag. I also found mixed success with ‘Knightlab’ widgets; the timeline, whilst at first quite fiddly, turned out a very professional and sleek looking product. While on the other hand, ‘Soundcite’, which I was very eager to use as I thought it could have added a further dimension to my work, proved less useful due to the limitations on what songs you could access fully for free on SoundCloud, as opposed to YouTube which it didn’t cater for. 


Using music as a source proved difficult at times, as it was often hard to know where to draw the line between literary and historical analysis, meaning I often ended up attempting to synergise the two. The songs of Bassy especially do not contain the greatest number of lyrics, so I found myself straining to distil as much information as I could from single words or phrases, whereas in the past I had been used to whole chapters of books. 


Finally, the audience of the paper posed an interesting question; who was I really writing for, and how should I adapt my formatting and prose accordingly. Whilst I realised that the whole point of an online paper was to enable access to the general public, I was also aware that this work contributes to part of my academic degree, and would be marked partly as such. Therefore, I found myself torn over whether to include the usual level of citations that would populate an academic paper, or forgo them for a one- or two-word reference in brackets, opting for the former in the end as the seemingly safer option. Yet overall, whilst trying not to be too informal I did also try to appeal to a wider audience by writing in a way in which, as Peter Alegia puts it, ‘avoiding jargon and esoteric debates, being unpretentious and down-to-earth’. 1


Using this paper as a microcosm, I believe that it has demonstrated why are growing number of scholars are starting to back the movement to digitise and diversify the humanities. For one thing, as already stated, through its position on a website online the paper is available to everyone with internet access, instead of only those who have access though their academic institution as per usual. For a paper such as this, which is all about bringing attention to a silenced history, the more interest it can garner the better, whether it’s from academics or members of the public. 


The format of an online paper, with the ability to embed media ranging from pictures, quotations, timelines, videos, and more, is a further advantage of this form of academic work over a standard essay. Through this, more complex ideas are able to be communicated in a simpler manner, as well as bringing an extra dimension to a person’s understanding of the people and events detailed. Overall, this helps question our preconceived notions of the aesthetics of a research paper, and perhaps could start to prompt a little more deviance from the unoriginal and tedious layouts of the vast majority of academic work.


In terms of the field of history writing in African history, I feel that this paper, and its focus on a musical source as the main conduit of historical evidence, offers plenty to build on. For many there will always be questions over the legitimacy of using a musical album as a source, as it usually has a stigma attached to it associating it with imagination and creative wording, rather than solid facts and evidence. Yet albums such as Bassy’s demonstrate that these are not mutually exclusive features. Granted, in order to fully utilise a musical piece as a historical source, a certain amount of historical context is needed, but aside from this a source can often go on to speak for itself as in the case of my paper.  Furthermore, songs and art in general often contain emotion noticeably amiss within many typical historical sources, offering a more personal insight into the people who populate the events we are studying. Whilst a work like this is certainly not the first of its kind, it does subsist in a relatively new and slim group of historical works based upon musical albums, and thus hopefully can serve as an example to other historians as to the benefits of working in such a manner. For silenced histories especially, where little or no traditional sources can be found, and as was the case here, the use of a musical source can prove a priceless way to extract what little information we can. In a similar vein, oral histories could also be promoted in African history in particular, as often people will maintain many stories about past events, which are far harder for governments to silence, as they could be the words of one individual. A final area in which this area could be copied in the field of African history is in using a member of a country’s diaspora as a source, with Bassy in this case being a Cameroonian who currently resides in France. These individuals are often invaluable sources of information about their mother countries, as they often benefit from a greater access to the tools to publish their experiences, while simultaneously being less constricted by the sometimes-repressive controls of their home regime with regards to free speech. 


To end, I have some additional thoughts on how this paper could have gone even further in its efforts to diversify the humanities field. Firstly, while understandably it would take some expertise and perhaps a great deal of time, the ability to adjust and view the metrics affecting who exactly gets to view the webpage could be interesting. A main aim of this broadening of the field is to gain access to a wider audience, so if there was any way to enable that through targeted search engine hits or location parameters, that could be fruitful. Otherwise, we risk getting stuck in the same feedback loop that befalls most traditional academic papers, whereby they are viewed and commented upon only by a set community of people. If possible, I would also desire to have the paper translated into as wide a variety of languages as possible. This builds on the ideas of Ngugi for decolonising universities, whereby he proclaimed that they should be aiming to include more teaching in African languages themselves, rather than existing only in European languages and thus enforcing a Eurocentric hegemony.2




[1] Peter Alegi, ‘Podcasting the Past: Africa Past and Present and (South) African History in the Digital Age’, South African Historical Journal, 64.2 (2012), 206–220 .

[2] Achille Joseph Mbembe, ‘Decolonizing the University: New Directions’, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 15.1 (2016), 29–45 .