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 Research Projects

Research in the English Department

There are a number of research niche areas in the department and four colleagues are NRF rated researchers.

1. Figuring the Animal in Post- Apartheid South Africa
The English Department has initiated research that is analysing the ways that animals have been represented in a number of different media and discourses (photographs, documentaries, print media, art, newspapers) following from Wendy Woodward’s landmark publication The Animal Gaze (Wits, 2008) which focused on literary and popular texts in print. The research will be framed by theories of posthumanism and considers evidence  in different art forms of new ways of thinking about non-human animals. It will also incorporate theories of space and place and new notions of cities.

A colloquium drawing national and international speakers is held annually. The research project is co-ordinated by ers:Wendy Woodward, Julia Martin, Duncan Brown,  Anthony Parr, Hermann Wittenberg, are engaged in work on Literature and Ecologies as well as on Animal Studies.

2. Ecological Subjects
This research project, coordinated by Julia Martin, brings priorities from the environmental movement into the reading and writing of literary texts. In particular it has involved exploring versions of ecological subjectivity, and representations of 'place' and places. Research is tied to both undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and publications include work in both literary criticism and creative nonfiction.

2. Reading the South African Literary Archive
Grounding itself in a book historical approach to literature, this project seeks to trace the textual and publication histories of a number of significant South African books and literary oeuvres. Texts are re-examined in the light of archival material (NELM, the censorship archive, publishers' records, the Mayibuye Centre, the SA Library, private holdings, etc.) generating a reevaluation of the relationship between text and historical context, authorial biography, and critical reception. Translation and adaptation are also major areas of interest.

Work completed so far has included the publication of a "lost" work by Alan Paton (published as Lost City of the Kalahari, UKZN Press, 2005), a revisionist study of Khoi and Bushman narratives, and an edited volume of J.M. Coetzee's film adaptations is in press.  The current project is major book historical re-appraisal of J.M.Coetzee's early Ravan Press published novels.
The project is co-ordinated by Hermann Wittenberg.

3. African natures-cultures: environment and animals in African cultural forms
Dr Fiona Moolla is editing the following volume which has attracted leading and new scholars in the area of environmental and animal studies from all over Arica and the world.

Climate change presents a universal threat where “nature” seems to impose itself as a reality which may evade questions of “culture” and representation. Transformations of lived environments seem to collapse dichotomies of human and nonhuman, science and humanities, north and south. Yet global warming requires local and global responses in which human cultures are inescapably engaged. This broadly inclusive and exploratory collection of papers will attempt to understand the ways in which nonhuman existence is figured in the cultural forms of continental Africa. The essays included will be multi/inter/transdisciplinary and will consider the full range of media, modes and genres, which may include the plastic and visual arts, orature, performance, literature, film and the internet. Together the essays may reveal fundamental philosophical insights into natures-cultures and may inflect established debates in ecology and human-nonhuman relations in interesting and productive ways.

4. Africa and the Classics
The classics such as The Iliad and The Odyssey are key texts in the history of Western literature. For some African writers and thinkers such as Mazisi Kunene, they represent invasive Eurocentric values, but for others such as Wole Soyinka, Bessie Head, Achmat Dangor, Pepetela, Valentin Mudimbe, and Abiola Irele, they offer an opportunity to examine African mythology and culture from a fresh perspective and to interrogate assumptions about Africa's route to modernity and development. Project Leader: Dr. Roger Field.

5. Life-Writing
As the author of a biography of the South African writer and political activist Alex la Guma (2010), I am fascinated by how people tell stories about other people, and how people tell stories about themselves, on the page and through film. Issues which interest me here include: the similarities and differences between fictional, biographical and autobiographical narrative strategies; how the notion of a whole or partial person emerges in biography; the differences between telling stories about people and places.Project Leader: Dr. Roger Field.



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