The History Workshop was founded in 1977, in the aftermath of the 1976 Soweto students uprising and was granted formal recognition by the University as the History Workshop in 1984. Its intellectual charter was to promote research into the lives, experiences and social worlds of the vast and anonymous mass of black and white South Africans who had to that point mostly escaped scholarly attention, and to make the product of this research accessible to those same South Africans in different kinds of media. For the first decade of our existence we sought to adhere these goals through Triennial conferences from where selected papers were published in 5 edited volumes, and linked Public Culture days when the University campus was thrown open to the wide public and at which a wide variety of media productions were aired and staged. From the late 1990?s the History Workshop broadened its activities to embrace a variety of public outreach projects all of which contained a scholarly backbone. These included published community histories, history training projects for schools, exhibitions and museums, and major public history initiatives like the Sunday Times Centenary Heritage Trial, as a result of which the Workshop has attained a significant profile across many communities and institutions in South Africa, so that we find ourselves repeatedly requested to provide historical research capacity and inputs
Until 2007 our activities were largely demand driven. At the point Prof. Bonner, the Head of the Research Group was awarded as NRF Research chair in the programme, Local Histories and Present Realities. This provided the personnel and infrastructure to engage in a continuous programme of pro- active self- initiated research, which to that point had been lacking. In addition as a result of the synergies this generated, the History Workshop and the Chair have been able to attract significant additional research funding and to initiate several major international collaborations. The combined effect has been to shift the History Workshop into a new gear characterized by accelerated growth, pushing us forward, after thirty years of existence, into a new and exciting phase of development.