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Isabel Hofmeyr

May 11, 2022

Dockside Reading

Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House

Duke University Press 2022

In Dockside Reading: Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House (Duke University Press, 2022), Isabel Hofmeyr traces the relationships among print culture, colonialism, and the ocean through the institution of the British colonial Custom House. 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, Hofmeyr shows how literary institutions like copyright and censorship were shaped by colonial control of coastal waters. Set in the environmental context of the colonial port city, Dockside Reading explores how imperialism colonizes water. 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 and Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. She received her PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand. She is author of The Portable Bunyan: A Transnational History (2004) and Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading (2013). Along with Antoinette Burton, she co-edited Ten Books That Shaped the British Empire: Creating an Imperial Commons. Her articles have been published in the American Historical Review, Social Dynamics, PMLA, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and the Journal of African History, to name a few.

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