| Introduction |
The Five Hundred Year Initiative is a systematically cross-disciplinary project set up to facilitate the mutual interrogation of a number of different source materials, including archaeological, oral, documentary and pictorial materials, to newly illuminate the history of the last 500 years across southern Africa. This is a strikingly unexplored and misrepresented period of our past, which remains disfigured by colonial and apartheid categories and assumptions, most notably in the way that African societies are represented as fixed, passive, isolated, unenterprising and unenlightened. While representing one of the most formative periods of our past it is, in many ways, the least understood. Some of the key contours and categories of the sub-continent took shape in a jagged and uneven fashion as modern identities, such as the Sotho, Tswana, Northern Nguni, Southern Nguni and their sub-groups emerged, in addition to frontier identities, such as Afrikaner, Griqua, Korana, and ?English?. Enormous internal invention coupled with the mercantile forces of an expanding Europe that were starting to press upon southern African shores and its hinterland resulted in a situation characterised by cultural mixing, interaction and change, particularly at the junctions of internal and colonial frontiers. This serves to refute the standard view of homogeneity and fixity.
Five Hundred Year Research Initiative members include scholars from a number of disciplines, including archaeology, history and social anthropology. Our goal is to investigate and re-interrogate this part of our history and to challenge and extend current perceptions about the form of ? and interactions along ? southern Africa?s expanding internal and colonial frontiers. We do this both be generating new data but also by re-examining old data in a new light. Allied goals include: the development of trans-frontier research networks; the development of young scholars; increasing the accessibility of source materials through a transcription and translation project; and the dissemination of our findings and an opening up of discussion in the public arena, including education, heritage and tourism venues.
We are dedicated to contributing to a history beyond apartheid and colonialism. The history of these is often characterised by grand narratives. We wish to interrogate and re-define such narratives by shedding light on the hidden corners of our history. Two conferences, one in May 2007 and a second in May 2008, helped to identify and address key issues, formulate strategy and set out the expectations and procedures for carrying out research, as well as identifying promising research areas.
Contact email address: 500Year.Initiative@wits.ac.za