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Welcome to The Heritage Disciplines

Several projects have been instigated by the Department of History. One of these is on the heritage disciplines of anthropology, history, architecture and archaeology

 

 The Heritage Disciplines

 

Several projects have been instigated by the Department of History. One of these is on the heritage disciplines of anthropology, history, architecture and archaeology. Since 1994 there has been a veritable explosion of heritage studies in South Africa with new sites, institutions and routes being proclaimed and older ones being re-framed. With this upsurge, many academic disciplines are carving out specific areas of heritage as their domains of expertise, re-packaging teaching programmes and disciplinary knowledge as meeting the requirements of an everbroadening field. The Heritage Disciplines project explores how the relationships between disciplinary knowledge and different publics is negotiated, and historicises the vectors of these mediations. It investigates how academic disciplines are invoked, utilised and contested in the production, delimitation, dissemination and reception of heritage in post-apartheid South Africa.This builds upon the previous Project on Public Pasts (POPP) and seeks to investigate the different ways that public representations of the past could open up debates about the nature of history by considering the different ways that pastness is framed and claimed as history. The project hosts an annual symposium in October where papers are presented by leading scholars in the field,nationally and internationally.

The Heritage Disciplines project is led by Leslie Witz, together with Ciraj Rassool and Nicky Rousseau (History), Premesh Lalu (Centre for Humanities Research), Noëleen Murray (Geography), with inputs from Gary Minkley (holding the SARCHI Chair of Social Change at Fort Hare) and Nick Shepherd (Centre for African Studies, UCT).

1. Changing histories in museums in South Africa (led by Leslie Witz)

Leslie Witz examines the particular dilemmas and responses of museums as they seek to find forms, methodologies and content to express new and altered pasts in post-apartheid South Africa. It is the ongoing dilemmas of whether and how to incorporate new and different histories, the reverberations that arise, and the ways and forms in which they are resolved that form the core of this study. Taking the museum as site of constant flux and movement this study tracks the circuits of appearance and disappearance of historical depictions and the specific contexts in which they take on particular forms.

Case studies include the Robben Island Museum, the Amathole Museum in King William’s Town and the Dias Museum in Mossel Bay. Research is also being done with Noëleen Murray on the history of the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum, tracking moments in the making and re-making of a place that had been formally established under apartheid as a labour compound to serve the towns of Strand, Somerset West and Gordon’s Bay. The project looks at processes of museumisation through the restoration of the last remaining migrant labour hostel in Lwandle, the gathering of memories through the generation and display of oral testimonies, and the production, archiving, exhibiting and circulation of visual pasts through photographs.

2. Inside African Anthropology: Monica Hunter Wilson and her Interpreters (led by Andrew Bank)

Two NRF funded projects are being conducted on the history of Anthropology in Southern Africa. One is on research assistants and interpreters in the making of anthropological knowledge in Africa and is to feature in a co-edited book (with L.J. Bank) entitled “Inside African Anthropology: Monica Hunter Wilson and her Interpreters” which will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2012. The other study is on the contribution of women social anthropologists to anthropology in 20th century South Africa. It is intended as a collective biography of the lives and contributions of four women: Monica Wilson, Ellen Hellmann, Hilda Kuper and Eileen Krige.

3. Visual History (led by Patricia Hayes)

This project explores the relationship between history and photography in southern Africa. It offers a postgraduate module in which theory and practice are combined, and also runs a research project on documentary photographers. In 2010 Patricia Hayes co-published Bush of Ghosts with photographer John Liebenberg, which explores the archive of a war photographer from South Africa’s so-called Border War. The book was launched in Johannesburg, Windhoek and Basel and the co-authors gave numerous seminars and public presentations on the photographs concerning Namibia’s liberation struggle and the predicament of white conscripts from South Africa. The project also contributed a text on “poisoned landscapes” for the photographer Santu Mofokeng’s 2011 publication Chasing Shadows, to coincide with the exhibition at Jeu de Paume in Paris. Postgraduate students working with Visual History are engaged in research on portraiture, colonial photographs, ID photographs as well as documentary more broadly.

4. Cape Flats Histories: Select Case Studies (led by Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie)

As a result of forced removals many thousands of black people were settled on the Cape Flats. Forced removal victims could see little that was nice about their areas of resettlement. Stereotypes also abound in the media as the Cape Flats is presented as a place with little beauty and with crime and violence rampant. This project seeks to challenge stereotypes of the Cape Flats by focusing on histories of people on the Flats in the last fifty years. Its first phase is to look at a history of Rylands and much work has been completed on this already. A book is envisaged. Postgraduatestudents have focussed on areas such Manenberg, Lavender Hill and Joe Slovo informal settlement.

5. Violence in Transition (led by Nicky Rousseau)

A core project on “Violence in Transition, Phase 3” is being conducted in collaboration with theCentre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), the Nairobi Peace Initiative – Africa in Kenya, and the Institute for Peace Leadership and Governance based at the Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe. This project builds on two earlier phases of research conducted by CSVR, which sought to explore the intersections between violence and transition in post-apartheid South Africa. By exploring various forms and localities of violence between 1980 and 1999, the two earlier phases of the project destabilised the easy assumption that the criminal and political were two separate phenomena, and challenged dominant public expectations of a linear transition from apartheid to democracy. The current study, to be conducted over a 20 month period, revisits some of these core propositions, and focuses specifically on questions of gender-based violence and various kinds of informal armed formations.

6. South African Heritage citizenships (led by Ciraj Rassool)

In addition to work done in the Heritage Disciplines project, Ciraj Rassool is doing ongoing research and also preparing a book (with the assistance of the NRF) on how museums and heritage sites and commemorations have been spaces for enacting, defending and contesting notions of citizenship in South Africa. Through a focus on commemoration, old museum collections, new museologies and the political lives of dead bodies, this book also presents an argument for the practice of public history that challenges recuperative impulses and which questions assumptions about the assumed authority of historians. One major ongoing area is on the post-collecting museum, and how contemporary struggles over human remains collections have called the authority of museums into question. Another relates to how the memory landscape of District Six continues to be contested through the politics of land restitution, heritage declaration and logics of urban planning.

 

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