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Bon voyage to Prof Ciraj Rassool as Visiting Professor to Sciences Po, Paris


Prof Ciraj Rassool, from the Department of History, in the Faculty of Arts,  has been invited to spend three weeks at Sciences Po in Paris, as a visiting professor. This prestigious appointment was offered to Prof Rassool by the international Affairs Division of Sciences Po.

In their invitation, Sciences Po stated that ‘we would love to host a professor from UWC, since South Africa, its history and its politics of memory, is of so much interest to the students and staff at Sciences Po’. Prof Rassool’s research is deeply grounded in museum and heritage studies and the study of the politics of memory, as well as finding ways to understand colonial legacies. This unsolicited invitation has made him realize that ‘people read your work’ and he states that ‘it is interesting to realise how our work becomes networked into the peripheries and metropoles of history, the varied historical circuits of humanity and it is especially significant when this research relates to colonial legacies’.

For Prof Rassool, the work that might have solicited the invitation is wide ranging as he has been involved in many national and international projects. Along with his colleagues in History and the Faculty of Arts, he has worked in international partnerships and has collaborated with scholars from Emory University and the University of Minnesota, and is also currently involved in the African Heritage Initiative (AHI), along with Fort Hare, the University of Witwatersrand, the University of Ghana and the University of Michigan. The latter project, was recently awarded  a subsequent round of funding for further research collaboration over the next five years.

While presenting papers in Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota during January 2014, Prof Rassool realised how widely his and his colleagues’ work is being read and debated, as they present arguments for the reconceptualising public history through  understanding processes of museumisation, and for arguing that the deaccessioning and return of human remains might mean the end of the museum as we know it. His book Skeletons in the Cupboard (with Martin Legassick, 2000) on museums and the trade in human remains resulted in the return and reburial of the remains of Klaas and Trooi Pienaar in 2012, after successful negotiations with Austrian authorities. With Prof Rassool’s assistance, this process created a new repatriation methodology, which sees remains collected as objects of racial research returned as human beings.

Prof Rassool works with old museums that are changing their colonial legacies and also devotes time to understanding new process-based museologies. Until 2013, he was Chairperson of Iziko Museums of South Africa, which has now removed all body casts from display and is also preparing to return its unethically collected human remains. He has worked with the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt, Germany and has influenced some of the direction of its new exhibition ‘Ware & Wissen (or the stories you wouldn’t tell a stranger)’. Prof Rassool has also written several books with colleagues. Museum Frictions: Public Cultures, Global Transformations (Duke 2006, with Ivan Karp, Cory Kratz, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Gustavo Buntinx) has become one of the most influential in the field of museum studies. A new collaborative book, the first major output of the AHI project, The Politics of Heritage in Africa, co-edited with Derek Peterson and Kodzo Gavua, will be published by Cambridge in its special series of the International African Institute.  He is also completing South Africa and the Spectacle of History, with UWC colleague Prof Leslie Witz and Prof Gary Minkley (Fort Hare) , which will be published by the University of Michigan Press.

Prof Rassool’s visiting professorship at Sciences Po will be for three weeks and will have a very flexible format which will include a public lecture, conference, attendance in a seminar, advising of students and informal meetings with Sciences Po researchers. Prof Rassool will travel to Sciences Po in April 2014. He is very excited about the trip as it will also provide him with an opportunity to visit the Parisian museums, on which he has read widely but not yet as yet visited.   

The Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Prof Duncan Brown congratulated Prof Rassool by saying ‘it is a prestigious opportunity. Congrats Ciraj!’ UWC also expresses its congratulations to Prof Rassool. We pride ourselves in having a scholar of such international standing as a colleague.

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