University of Texas at Austin

The Transcription Centre:

An Inventory of Its Records at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: The Transcription Centre, circa 1962-1977
Title: The Transcription Centre Records
Dates: 1931-1986 (bulk 1960-1977)
Extent: 25 boxes (10.50 linear feet)
Abstract: The records of the Transcription Centre comprise scripts and manuscripts, correspondence, legal documents, business records, ephemera, photographs, and clippings spanning the years 1931 to 1986.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-04266
Languages: English, Hausa, Swahili, German, French, and Italian.
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchase, 1990 (R12142)
Processed by: Bob Taylor, 2008

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Organizational History

The Transcription Centre began its brief but significant life in February 1962 under the direction of Dennis Duerden (1927-2006), producing and distributing radio programs for and about Africa. Duerden was a graduate of Queen’s College, Oxford and had served as principal of the Government Teachers’ College at Keffi, Nigeria and later as producer of the Hausa Service of the BBC. As an artist and educator with experience in West Africa, as well as a perceptive critic of African art he was a natural in his new post.
The Transcription Centre was created with funding provided initially by the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) to foster non-totalitarian cultural values in sub-Saharan Africa in implicit opposition to Soviet-encouraged committed political attitudes among African writers and artists. Much of the CCF’s funding and goals were subsequently revealed to have come from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The stress between the CCF’s presumed wish to receive value for their investment in the Transcription Centre and Duerden’s likely belief that politically-based programming would alienate the very audience it sought permeated his activities throughout his years with the radio service.
The center’s first effort in broadcasting was Africa Abroad, a fifteen-minute weekly program of interviews and news edited by Lewis Nkosi, a South African expatriate journalist and scholar. Africa Abroad was produced from 1962 through 1966, along with other occasional programming. In the years between 1966 and 1970 programs were funded by and produced for Deutsche Welle in Germany. African Writers Talking, a collection of interviews conducted between 1962 and 1968 and edited by Duerden and Cosmo Pieterse, was published in 1972 by Heinemann.
Beginning in 1964 a mimeographed periodical, Cultural Events in Africa, was published, carrying news items of cultural activities in Africa. As the Transcription Centre’s activities wound down in the mid-1970s, Cultural Events was for a time produced at the African Studies Centre of the University of Cambridge, with publication eventually ceasing in 1975, the year the Transcription Centre closed its final home in London at 6 Paddington Street.
Over the dozen years of its active existence under Duerden’s management, the Transcription Centre enjoyed the services of a remarkable array of writers and scholars, including Frene Ginwala, Alex La Guma, John Nagenda, Lewis Nkosi, Donatus Nwoga, Cosmo Pieterse, Richard Rive, Andrew Salkey, and Robert Serumaga.


Moore, Gerald. “The Transcription Centre in the Sixties: Navigating in Narrow Seas,” Research in African Literatures, vol. 33, no. 3, Fall 2002.
Price, Derrick. “Dennis Duerden,” The Guardian, 30 January 2007.
Whiteman, Kaye. “Remembering Dennis Duerden, 1927-2006,” ASAUK Newsletter, no. 46, January 2007.

Scope and Contents

The records of the Transcription Centre comprise scripts and manuscripts, correspondence, legal documents, business records, ephemera, photographs, and clippings. The collection, which spans the years 1931 to 1986, is arranged partly in original order and partly in a devised order. The material is organized in four series: I. Initiatives, Events, and Sponsorships, 1961-75; II. Correspondence, 1961-86; III. Administrative Records, 1960-77; and IV. Other Papers, 1931-74. Languages present include English, Hausa, Swahili, German, French, and Italian.
Series I., Initiatives, Events, and Sponsorships, constitutes the largest group of records and probably contains the most complete representation of the Transcription Centre’s many activities. The series includes files on conferences, festivals, music, publications, radio programs, scholarship and research, television projects, and theater and film projects.
Africa Abroad, the prime broadcast vehicle for the center in its early years, is represented by a fairly complete collection of scripts, along with scripts of other radio series produced by the center, such as Oral Traditions in Hausa and Swahili, Men and Space, and People on the Move (the latter two in English and Swahili versions). There is also much additional documentation of broadcasting efforts in the form of program logs, tape catalogs, and correspondence regarding the ultimately successful effort to place the audio tapes at the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago.
Particularly noteworthy is a large file of scripts and script fragments arranged topically as a broadcast and publishing resource, including material not represented elsewhere in the papers. An index to the names, titles, and subjects represented in this file is included in this finding aid.
For Cultural Events in Africa, the center’s periodical newsletter, slightly more than half of the issues published (primarily from the later period) are present. A gathering of news items, press releases, and minor published materials from which short and long pieces in Cultural Events were often based is also present. Much of this original source material is fugitive in nature and likely difficult to locate elsewhere.
Other projects supported by the Transcription Centre include the ethnological work of Gerhard Kubik, the Ijinle Theatre Company, and a film version of Wole Soyinka’s The Swamp Dwellers. The series also demonstrates various efforts to assist African musicians and encourage interest in African musical performance. Materials relating to conferences and festivals of African art and culture in the 1960s and early 1970s are located in the series, of which those concerned with the 1965 Commonwealth Arts Festival in Cardiff, Wales are the most extensive.
Comprising about a quarter of the papers, Series II. Correspondence, contains significant evidence of the Transcription Center’s efforts on behalf of African art, writing, and scholarship through broadcasting, conferences, and cultural festivals. Though the correspondence spans 1961 to 1986, the period before 1970 is strongest.
Dennis Duerden’s tireless efforts to draw attention to Africa’s mind and soul at the beginning of the post-colonial era are documented in the center’s correspondence with artists (Jimo Akolo, Julian Bienart) and writers (Chinua Achebe, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Rajat Neogy, David Rubadiri), as well as academics and other scholars (Ulli Beier, Sillaty K. Dabo, Gerhard Kubik, Margaret Laurence, Ivan van Sertima). The extensive body of correspondence with Wole Soyinka is especially noteworthy.
Substantial additional correspondence with publishers, contributors, and client radio stations and networks is also found in the series. A complete index of correspondents is available in this finding aid.
Series III. Administrative Records, also represents about a quarter of the Transcription Centre records. The materials here include documents concerned with rent, insurance, utilities, legal matters, and the like, along with a substantial group of subscription records for Cultural Events in Africa.
Fully half of the series, however, demonstrates via regular correspondence the roles of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the Farfield Foundation in the creation and continued funding of the Transcription Centre and Dennis Duerden’s plans for the broadcasting service. This correspondence appears to have survived substantially complete.
Series IV. Other Papers, embraces in its box-and-a-half extent a group of Transcription Centre reports on social policy in and about Africa, materials on African art and culture, and a collection of papers concerned with non-African film projects in which Duerden involved himself at various times. This latter group is as varied in its emphases as a projected study of the English pub, the art and literature of India, British stage classics generally and Shakespeare specifically. Related promotional records in Series III. contain descriptive material and some correspondence concerned with Dennis Duerden’s work in physiological and medical cinematography in the early 1970s.
Other collections at the Ransom Center holding material related to the Transcription Centre include the records of Research in African Literatures and the papers of Peter Glenville.
The Archival Sound Recordings service of the British Library holds sound recordings produced by the Transcription Centre and makes them available online to those with proper licensing. The Center for Research Libraries in the U.S. holds the collection of audio materials acquired from the Transcription Centre in the 1970s.

Related Material

Research in African Literatures
Peter Glenville Papers

Index Terms


Achebe, Chinua
Akolo, Jimo Bola, 1935-
Beinart, Julian
Bown, Lalage J.
Duerden, Dennis
Kubik, Gerhard, 1934-
Laurence, Margaret
Mphahlele, Ezekiel
Soyinka, Wole


Transcription Centre
Commonwealth Arts Festival. (1965 : London, England)




Africa Abroad
Cultural Events in Africa

Container List