What’s dirty? English professor explores the question in Lagos

March 9, 2020

Dirt and dirtiness are ubiquitous — but the ways we conceive of it vary in ways both cultural and personal. In her new book, “Histories of Dirt: Media and Urban Life in Colonial and Postcolonial Lagos” (Duke University Press), Yale English Professor Stephanie Newell examines how and why spaces and people in that Nigerian city have been labeled “unclean” from the days of British colonial rule to today.

Newell investigated newspaper articles, colonial travel writing, public health films, and other sources to show how perceptions of “dirt” or being “dirty” influenced colonial governance, and — through interviews with Lagosians themselves — explored urban Nigerians’ own values and opinions about what constitutes dirtiness.

YaleNews interviewed Newell about her book via email; this semester she is the Leverhulme Visiting Professor at Newcastle University in England. She is also Professor Extraordinaire at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.

Read the full conversation here.