Universiteit Leiden

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ASCL Seminar: Dockside Reading: Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House

Thursday 10 March 2022
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden
Durban Custom House, around 1870. Photographer unknown.

This event will take place online. Registrees will receive a link to the online platform one day before the start of the event. Please register via the ASCL website.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, dockside customs officials would leaf through publications looking for obscenity, politically objectionable materials, or reprints of British copyrighted works, often dumping these condemned goods into the water. These practices, echoing other colonial imaginaries of the ocean as a space for erasing incriminating evidence of the violence of empire, informed later censorship regimes under apartheid in South Africa. By tracking printed matter from ship to shore, Prof. Isabel Hofmeyr shows how literary institutions like copyright and censorship were shaped by colonial control of coastal waters. Based on her new book bearing the same title, Hofmeyr examines this theme through the concept of hydrocolonialism, which puts together land and sea, empire and environment.


Isabel Hofmeyr is Professor Emeritus at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and Distinguished Global Professor at NYU. She has worked extensively on the Indian Ocean world and oceanic themes more generally. She co-directs a project “Oceanic Humanities for the Global South” with partners from Mozambique, India, Jamaica and Barbados.

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