The History Workshop
The History Workshop is an interdisciplinary research group of academics mainly drawn from within the social sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand. Since its inception in 1977, the History Workshop has been promoting research into the lives, experiences and social worlds of people and communities in South Africa that have by and large been neglected by scholarly investigation in order to address the erasures of apartheid and colonial scholarship that wrote South Africa as a story of white progress. A second guiding concern for the History Workshop has been the endeavour to collaborate with communities and to open these histories to other people including, significantly, those whose lives the research is about. Oral history methodology has been the backbone of the group’s activities and research projects over nearly four decades. The group is involved in a range of heritage and public history projects (including published community histories, exhibitions and museums, and other major public history initiatives), and holds regular seminars, book launches, conferences, oral history training workshops and history training projects for school teachers.
SARCHI CHAIR: ‘Local Histories, Present Realities’
Much of the History Workshop’s research agenda has been based on the premise that well-researched historical perspectives are indispensable to the social sciences and more generally their endeavours to engage with the political, social and economic issues of the present. To contend with the complexities of the relationship between the past and present-day realities, the National Research Foundation awarded a Research Chair on the theme ‘Local Histories and Present Realities’ to Philip Bonner in 2007 and renewed this to Noor Nieftagodien in 2012. The initiative funds a cohort of post-graduate students from Honours to PhD level, post-doctoral fellows and researchers in disciplines across the humanities. They are involved in a wide-range of research projects on topics that include: struggle histories, particularly of the underground; youth politics and culture; women, gender and sexuality; migration and local trading; the politics of race; the politics of land and chieftaincy; environmental histories; the state (especially at local and provincial levels); the former bantustans; spatial politics; the emergence of new middle class communities; and the impact of mining on local economies, politics and societies. The Chair, with its geographic focus on small towns and rural geographies in the interior provinces of South Africa (Mpumalanga, Free State, North West and Limpopo) and inter-disciplinary approach, has enabled new research on areas that have been neglected in much of the published literature, which tends to privilege the experiences of the main urban centres in South Africa.
The SARChI provided the personnel and infrastructure to engage in a continuous programme of pro-active, self-initiated research. In addition, as a result of the synergies this generated, the History Workshop and the SARChI 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 characterised by accelerated growth, pushing it forward, after nearly forty years of existence, into a new and exciting phase of development.
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