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Weekly Seminars

The South African Contemporary History and Humanities Seminar has been in operation since 1993 and it is co-hosted by the Historical Studies Department and the Centre for Humanities Research at UWC.

Established with the aim of creating a forum where members of the UWC academic community, as well as interested academics from other universities, can meet and engage in academic discussion around issues in South African historical studies, the Tuesday seminar has been much more than that. Since its inception, its scope transcended South African historical studies and the UWC academic space, hosting scholars from all over the world and engaging in cross-disciplinary debates.

All papers are circulated in advance and taken as read in order to facilitate and enrich the discussion. Hard copies of the presented papers are available at the Centre for Humanities Research and at the History Department a week before. Copies of previous seminar papers are housed at the CHR archives. 

A collection of these seminar papers is available in the book: Out of History: Re-Imagining South Africans Pasts (eds. Jung Ran Forte, Paolo Israel, Leslie Witz). [https://www.hsrcpress.ac.za/books/out-of-history] Out of History brings together exciting and innovative work in History and the Humanities. Drawing upon papers which have been presented at the South African Contemporary History and Humanities Seminar at the University of the Western Cape, the book reflects upon how this space fashioned new histories of the South African past over the last twenty years. Written by leading scholars in fields of visual history, public history, heritage, linguistics, oral history and postcolonial studies, the contributions address critical questions about the production of academic knowledge and the status of the Humanities in the post-apartheid present. Through offering a critique of nationalist narratives, the chapters explore the limits of historical representations, providing new paths to rethink memory, the archive, creative writing, disciplinary methodologies and the legacies of colonialism.

The seminar is currently convened by Phindi Mnyaka, Bianca van Laun and Ross Truscott.

Upcoming seminar announcements are available at: http://www.chrflagship.uwc.ac.za/events/seminars/  

ARA aims to reimagine the limits and possibilities of African restitution, redefining European anthropological and archaeological collections as both physical and immaterial resources for building new African futures. It shifts the frame of reference, shares information, and advances effective African-led action at a global scale to bring about restitution to Africa. The international research team includes PIs Professor Monica Hanna (Arab Academy for Science, Technology, and Maritime Transport, Egypt), Prof Kodzo Gavua (University of Ghana, Ghana) and Prof Dan Hicks (Pitt Rivers Museum University of Oxford). The South African PI, Professor Ciraj Rassool, leads a team of researchers at UWC. The activities of the programme take place wholly on the continent of Africa.

ARA UWC conducts provenance and restitution research on artefacts and collections from South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe that are held in collections in Europe and South Africa. We are doing this through individual researchers who are Master’s and Doctoral students at UWC, and collaborations with the Museums Association of Namibia and Iziko Museums of South Africa. ARA UWC will also consider matters of law and policy and seek to advance necessary legal and policy frameworks to advance restitution as a means of rethinking what we mean by museum. This research will also enquire into the meanings of restitution, and how it can emerge as a means of social recovery in the societies of southern Africa.

The urgent matter of African restitution is conventionally framed as a dialogue between European and African nation states, or between Europe and ‘source communities’, or between museum curators concerned with past provenance and activists and source communities concerned with repatriations in the present. This programme ambitiously expands and redraws this frame of reference, supporting the creation of a cross-continental action-oriented network to drive this question forward with a new scale, speed and intensity. It generates a new vision of the different forms that African restitution can take. In doing so, ARA reframes and re-centres African voices in the global discourse around restitution from the ongoing grasp of European museums, from objects to knowledge, and from pasts to futures.

This is a platform that offers an Honours, Master’s and PhD in History, with specialisation in public history, museum studies, heritage and curatorship. It developed in 1998 out of increasing specialisation in the department in Public History and was created through a partnership with Robben Island Museum, and for a few years, the University of Cape Town, with the creation of a Postgraduate Diploma qualification that was jointly certified by the two universities. After a Master’s in Public and Visual History was created in 2000, this was followed by a Master’s qualification in History, with specialisation in Museum and Heritage Studies.

As our expertise in these areas has grown, there have been increased enrolments of Master’s and doctoral candidates working on museum, heritage and curatorial themes. We also continue to collaborate with museums, galleries, and other public culture bodies and heritage institutions in Cape Town and beyond.

In 2019-20, with the support of a planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a Planning Group was established to prepare recommendations to ‘create a sustainable archival infrastructure at the University of the Western Cape to support preservation, access, and humanities scholarship’. UWC has been entrusted with numerous anti-apartheid collections, most notably the UWC-Robben Island Museum-Mayibuye Archives.

The university is in a position to expand and activate these archives. There are enormous interdisciplinary opportunities afforded by these collections as they bring together aesthetic, political and philosophical questions related to activism and liberation. The current Rector of UWC, Tyrone Pretorius, has made strengthening the humanities a university-wide priority legacy project. Key to this would be the consolidation and augmentation of its archival collections into a well-preserved, managed, and accessible resource backed by trustworthy digital infrastructure that will be at the core of UWC’s academic work both for scholars worldwide and the South African public. Through a testbed project with partners in Mozambique, and its postgraduate curriculum development around activist archives, the History Department has been closely involved with the Archives Planning Group which is based at the Centre for Humanities Research.

The Cape Flats is a very extensive area that lies on the edges (roughly south eastwards) of the city centre. It includes areas such as Retreat, Grassy Park, Athlone, Rylands, Bokmakierie, Kew Town, Silvertown, Langa, Nyanga, Mitchells Plain, Bonteheuwel, Manenberg, Strandfontein, Crossroads, Khayelitsha, Philippi, Elsies River, Bishop Lavis, Nooitgedacht, Delft, Blue Downs, Kuils River. Apartheid history has accorded to the Cape Flats a special place as one where black people were dumped after their dispossession. The Cape Flats has been represented as bleak and almost with no history.

This study seeks to provide a different representation. It is a registered project of Professor Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie. It starts with Rylands because it provides an opportunity to revisit and challenge general stereotypes of the Cape Flats. The idea is to provide rich histories of places of relocations, places which have developed over the many decades since relocation first occurred. Postgraduate students are encouraged to make a contribution to histories of other Cape Flats areas and thus far there has been work on Joe Slovo, Delft, Nooitgedacht, Grassy Park and Manenberg.

The work of locating, identifying and returning human remains of those persons who have gone missing or been killed in circumstances associated with political conflict has become a defining characteristic of societies’ attempts to reckon with the aftermaths of violence. Between 2015 and 2017, the Department of History was home to the NRF Forensic History Project led by Nicky Rousseau, Riedwaan Moosage and Bianca van Laun. This project and its growing cohort of graduate students was animated by the following questions: How has the politically missing person (including the very constitution of what it means to be politically missing) and her missingness been figured in South Africa? How have the afterlives of missing persons and human remains been set to work in post-1994 South Africa?

What is the status of the forensic in the search, identification and memorialisation of the politically missing? Our engagements with these questions and the ways in which they have been inflected across the globe have been staged and worked on in an ongoing Reading Group, research essays and dissertations. In February 2018, two international workshops – Missing Subjects and the Subject of Missingness and Missing and Missed – drew the NRF research project to a close. These workshops and a subsequent special issue of the journal Kronos (Issue 44, 2018) also brought the South African research on missing persons and human remains into a unique and generative conversation with that of colleague Ciraj Rassool’s, focused on human remains as objects of racial science during the colonial era and associated questions of repatriation. Forensic History continues to form a niche research focus of the department via the Andrew W. Mellon Remaking Societies, Remaking Persons. The dissertations and publications emerging from the Forensic History Project at UWC form the core of South Africa’s scholarly contribution to a burgeoning literature on what anthropologist Katherine Verderey’s evocative refers to as ‘the political lives of dead [and missing] bodies.’

This project aims to excavate new sources pertaining to the history of the Mozambican liberation struggle: on the one hand, the massive documentation left behind by the repressive counterinsurgency organisation of the Portuguese state (PIDE, the secret police, and SCCIM, the intelligence services); on the other, oral history interview carried out in the first years after independence by socialist brigades, in the areas where the liberation struggles were fought. These archives are animated by opposite logics, and provide very different viewpoints to explore the complex histories of the Mozambican liberation struggle.

The project aims to begin that task by digitising, organising and studying selected materials from the National Archives of the Torre do Tombo in Lisbon, and from the Historical Archives of Mozambique, with which a project of cooperation is being established in the context of a seed Mellon grant on the renewal of the UWC archives. This material will be used in relation to specific case-studies pertaining to the history of the Mozambican liberation struggle. The project aims to analyse this archival material with a contrastive reading, so as to evade both the colonial narratives and nationalist triumphalism. It will focus especially on issues of political violence, military history, betrayal and suspicion, and grassroots nationalism.

Oceanic Humanities for the Global South is a supranational project that aims to institute oceanic humanities as a field of inquiry through graduate curriculum development and training, research production, building supra-national global south teaching and research networks, and public humanities activities and platforms. The project comprises researchers based at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of the Western Cape; international partners from Mozambique, Mauritius, India, Jamaica and Barbados; associate members; and graduate students. It is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the South African National Research Foundation and National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences. For more information please see the project's website: http://oceanichumanities.com

Revolutionary Papers is a transnational research and teaching initiative of anti-colonial and anti-imperial movement materials from the global south. It is a collaboration that started by exploring 20th century periodicals and related print ephemera – including newspapers, cultural and literary journals, magazines, manifestos, posters, album covers, newsletters and political pamphlets – as sites of Left, anti-imperial and anti-colonial critical production. During anti-colonial struggles, periodicals functioned as forums for the development of oppositional politics, literary scenes, and art practices. At this time, the periodical acted as a conduit and a catalyst of collective critique and literature, discussion, and self-definition in multiple contexts and countries. This was made possible by the periodicals’ flexibility, its circulatory power, its capacity to foster intellectual and literary scenes, and its ability to form fields of political, cultural and social thought. These were developed through features such as records of debates, clubs and gatherings, essays, letters to the editor, translations, news, local and international literature, photography, and visual art. As such, left periodicals developed unique political vocabularies, analyses, and critiques that addressed local concerns and tied these concerns to global revolutionary politics. This research collaboration investigates how periodicals have played a key role in establishing alternatives to colonial infrastructure and cultural domains during and after decolonization. This includes the creation of new Global South counterpublics, including counter-cultural, political and institutional spheres.
 International Conferences, Workshops and Gatherings
For more information on our first International Conference at UWC in 2022 see our Conference Teaching Tool:
https://revolutionarypapers.org/teaching-tool/revolutionary-papers-conference/
Public Pedagogy Workshops 
Workshops in university  classrooms, libraries, and with community and activist organisations in the UK, South Africa, Pakistan and other countries where Revolutionary Papers researchers are located.
Teaching Tools 
Digital Teaching Tools designed to facilitate learning about or teaching with revolutionary periodicals. These are designed by Revolutionary Papers members and network collaborators and available at: https://revolutionarypapers.org/teaching-tool/
Series collaboration Revolutionary Papers and Africa is A Country (2023-24)
This year long series features posts from a wide range of authors working with the archival remnants of African and black diaspora anti-colonial movement materials. The series aims to show how papers from the Pan-African left from across the continent and wider diaspora can reinvigorate a politics and pedagogy that run counter to the current cooptation of anti-systemic histories. These papers from the midst of anti-colonial revolt remind us of the messy, rich alternatives imagined by those in the heat of struggle. You can read the series here: https://africasacountry.com/series/revolutionary-papers

Special Issue for Radical History Review (No.150, 2024)
This will include an introductory essay conceptualizing the place of revolutionary papers in the making of anti-colonial and anti-authoritarian ideas and struggles; 10-15 peer-reviewed articles and teaching tools unpacking how specific periodicals played a key role in establishing alternatives to colonial infrastructure and cultural domains during and after decolonization; a curated poster exhibition which will feature periodical covers and art with annotations and commentary on their historical and political context; a teaching tool which will illustrate how educators can integrate left periodicals into university and movement settings; Roundtable/reviews focused on political education using radical, self-produced periodicals from movements in the Global South. Keep an eye out for it here: https://read.dukeupress.edu/radical-history-review/

Online Events
Revolutionary Papers regularly hosts online workshops and events around the themes of the project. Between 2020-21, a series of related seminars on the project’s Counter-Institutional, Counter-Political, and Counter-Cultural streams were organised. Read more about these workshops: https://revolutionarypapers.org/event/
 
In November 2021, Revolutionary Papers also co-hosted the joint launch of the South Asia  Resource and Research Centre Archive and the Revolutionary Papers Digital Teaching Tools at a seminar titled “Dissident Histories of Pakistan.”
For upcoming events, please follow us on Twitter (https://twitter.com/RevPapers), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RevPapers), or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/revolutionarypapers/), or refer to our Events page: https://revolutionarypapers.org/event/



The project activities include:

International Conferences, Workshops and Gatherings
For more information on our first International Conference at UWC in 2022 see our Conference Teaching Tool:
https://revolutionarypapers.org/teaching-tool/revolutionary-papers-conference/

Public Pedagogy Workshops 
Workshops in university classrooms, libraries, and with community and activist organisations in the UK, South Africa, Pakistan and other countries where Revolutionary Papers researchers are located.

Teaching Tools 
Digital Teaching Tools designed to facilitate learning about or teaching with revolutionary periodicals. These are designed by Revolutionary Papers members and network collaborators and available at: https://revolutionarypapers.org/teaching-tool/
Series collaboration Revolutionary Papers and Africa is A Country (2023-24)
This year long series features posts from a wide range of authors working with the archival remnants of African and black diaspora anti-colonial movement materials. The series aims to show how papers from the Pan-African left from across the continent and wider diaspora can reinvigorate a politics and pedagogy that run counter to the current cooptation of anti-systemic histories. These papers from the midst of anti-colonial revolt remind us of the messy, rich alternatives imagined by those in the heat of struggle. You can read the series here: https://africasacountry.com/series/revolutionary-papers

Special Issue for Radical History Review (No.150, 2024)
This will include an introductory essay conceptualizing the place of revolutionary papers in the making of anti-colonial and anti-authoritarian ideas and struggles; 10-15 peer-reviewed articles and teaching tools unpacking how specific periodicals played a key role in establishing alternatives to colonial infrastructure and cultural domains during and after decolonization; a curated poster exhibition which will feature periodical covers and art with annotations and commentary on their historical and political context; a teaching tool which will illustrate how educators can integrate left periodicals into university and movement settings; Roundtable/reviews focused on political education using radical, self-produced periodicals from movements in the Global South. Keep an eye out for it here: https://read.dukeupress.edu/radical-history-review/

Online Events
Revolutionary Papers regularly hosts online workshops and events around the themes of the project. Between 2020-21, a series of related seminars on the project’s Counter-Institutional, Counter-Political, and Counter-Cultural streams were organised. Read more about these workshops: https://revolutionarypapers.org/event/
 
In November 2021, Revolutionary Papers also co-hosted the joint launch of the South Asia  Resource and Research Centre Archive and the Revolutionary Papers Digital Teaching Tools at a seminar titled “Dissident Histories of Pakistan.”
For upcoming events, please follow us on Twitter (https://twitter.com/RevPapers), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RevPapers), or Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/revolutionarypapers/), or refer to our Events page: https://revolutionarypapers.org/event/

Revolutionary Papers is co-led by Dr. Koni Benson (UWC History), Dr. Chana Morgenstern (Cambridge Literature) and Dr. Mahvish Ahmad (LSE Sociology). It is co-sponsored by the Cambridge-Africa ALBORADA Research Fund; Department of Sociology, London School of Economics; Center for Humanities Research and Department of History, University of the Western Cape; Global Humanities Initiative, Cambridge University; and the Postcolonial Print Cultures International Research Network.

For further information, please see:
For further information, please email revolutionarypapers@gmail.com or kbenson@uwc.ac.za.
 

The Remaking Societies, Remaking Persons (RSRP) Forum, is a supra-national research platform supported by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation that concentrates on questions of new museums and museologies, the reconsideration of public history, heritage, the politics of display, and multisensorialism and accoustemologies, as well as reconfiguring the dead body of colonialism, apartheid, and post-colonial social conflict and violence, in the context of processes of democratising societies and of unfolding projects of memorialisation, reconciliation, and transitional justice. In bringing Museum and Heritage Studies and Forensic History together, this project is an intervention in the fields of museum and heritage production, museum and heritage education, exhibition making and in reckoning with the place of the dead and their deaths in the remaking of societies.

The project is spearheaded by the University of the Western Cape’s Department of History, working in partnership with the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at the University of Ghana Legon, Accra (UGL) the Department of History at Makerere University, Kampala (MAK), the Cynthia Nelson Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies (IGWS) at the American University Cairo, and working with colleagues at the Department of Architecture and Design at American University Beirut, the School of the Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand, and the SARChI Chair in Social Change at the University of Fort Hare.

The project seeks to consolidate and strengthen research in museum and heritage studies and forensic history, by drawing these closer together to develop research capacity and resources in critical museology and studies of the dead, by creating and participating in platforms for discussion and debate on these matters, and building research expertise in these areas at different levels of academic development. It seeks also to connect these research concerns with projects of museum development in Ghana and Uganda and gender and exhibition development in Cairo and specialist research expertise at Wits, Fort Hare and American University, Beirut.

Visual History & Theory is a research platform at the University of the Western Cape that promotes a critical engagement with the image in relation to other forms of knowledge production, creativity and contest in Africa and elsewhere. The ‘visual turn’ too often associates visual culture with the invention of technical media, which tends to put Africa at the limit of modernity. It has been our task to rethink hegemonic histories and theories of vision from this limit, opening the way to re-theorise the humanities more globally. Visual History therefore explores inter-disciplinary approaches to images as a way of rethinking history, society, and culture. 

Graduates of the UWC Visual History programme are making a strong impact on the growing field of global photography studies, such as the 2019 edited volume Ambivalent. Photography and Visibility in African History. 

 We continue to produce original work that:
  • Brings to light the rich and vibrant photographic archives in Africa so as to examine historical and contemporary struggles occurring at the level of the visual  
  • Articulates new concepts and frameworks that rethink the dominant histories of vision from a strong research site in the south 
  • Develops new ways of writing about images 
  • Takes seriously the place of ‘the public’ in wider interdisciplinary debates, examining civil engagement through institutions (such as the museums and galleries) as well as practices around popular arts and media 
  • Examines the postcolonial African digital turn with its popular and dissident undertones (especially in social media) that express yet another ambivalent wave of the ‘democratisation of the image’
  • Challenges assumptions about the African continent as a site of raw archives and belated or derivative modernities
Visual History and Theory considers multiple histories, sciences, and forms of knowledge over time in order to promote the type of critical skills needed to grasp the cultural and political magnitude of dramatically increasing media literacies that are already shaping our future.