Children in the Archives: Epistolary Evidence, Youth Agency, and the Social Meanings of “Coming of Age” in Interwar Nyasaland

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Family History, Volume 35, p.25–47 (2010)



Africa, childhood, children, colonialism, miscegenation, Nyasaland


This study looks at multiracial boys and girls, often referred to as “half castes,” in Nyasaland. It reconstructs the status and agency of these children by assessing the ways in which they maneuvered local African and European communities to explore opportunities that would improve their individual situations. At times they took initiative by writing letters to the Nyasaland administration for financial support. Furthermore, state responses to these letters provide evidence of how the state perceived these children, particularly the moral responsibility felt given that their fathers were often white settlers and at times colonial officials. This article also discusses the general challenges and opportunities that childhood experiences raise, with specific attention to the kind of subaltern social knowledge that such evidence presents—knowledge that challenges conventional visions of what constitutes history and who makes it.

African Futures

As major transformations unfold, our understanding of Africa, its past, its future and its relation to the world seems to be caught between two contending paradigms. The first is shaped by the discourse of crisis and disaster, emergency and survival. The second is future-oriented. It is preoccupied with Africa’s shifting position within the global economy and its apparent rise, the material and virtual flows and the infrastructures that connect Africa to its diasporas and the broader world, and to the social and aesthetic experiences of its inhabitants. This project will take stock of the contending discourses on African futures. It aims at drawing together in robust conversation a broad range of parallel debates currently going on in areas as diverse as literature, science-fiction, music and digital technologies, economics, futures markets, demography and public health, environmental studies, arts, design and fashion. It will also tease out the theoretical and practical implications of these discourses and the extent to which Afro-futurism could be read against similar trends elsewhere, in China, India, Russia and Brazil in particular.

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