APC's Oct/Nov 2019 Research Development Workshop

17 Dec 2019 - 05:00
Thokozani Mhlambi’s closing performance for the November 2019 Research Development Workshop. Photo courtesy of Sibusiso Nkomo.

The APC's second research development workshop of 2019 took place from 30 October to 1 November at UCT. As customary, it was an intense three days of engaging discussion and critical thinking on pre-circulated work-in-progress across disciplines and academic expertise. A number of new students and associates participated in this workshop, imbuing it with fresh perspectives and ideas. 

The first day, with a decidedly 'Zulu focus' began strongly with Carolyn Hamilton's and John Wright's chapters for their co-authored book on the political history of independent-era KwaZulu-Natal. The chapters' strategy of providing both a historiography of the 'evidence' used to write 'the history' as well as a political history of different groups highlighted clearly what was 'at stake' and the politics of 'talking about the past' during each period. The salient themes of a genealogy of the concept of 'kingship' as well as question around 'oral traditions' would surface throughout the workshop. Sizakele Gumede's paper on Harriette Colenso raised the issue of what enables someone to intervene in public life at a particular point; which was echoed in the discussion on Wade Smit's paper on the creation of the experiment of 'the Tongaati' and the launch of Watson's book on Tongaat and its role in shaping the archive. The ethical considerations of managing the expectations of your research outcome by your interlocutors, especially if they are family, surfaced during the discussion on Ayanda Mahlaba's MA project on women's mobilization of history.  These questions would resurface in Angela Ferreira's proposed project on Khoisan leadership and questions of land claims and reformulations of identity in a KwaZulu-Natal town and the next day in projects around commissioned work. The day ended with Londiwe Langa's powerful proposed project offering a methodological intervention of pathway creation and history-making through childhood memories.  

Day two's emphasis shifted to questions of archive and the digital and to issues around the relationships of the researcher to the work produced.  It began with Susana Molins Lliteras' introduction to her book project and if and how the genre allows for the voice of the author to emerge. Fabian Saptow's proposed PhD project raises the question of what is at stake during digitisation and what are the ontological differences between the 'archival' and 'digital' object.  Similar issues were raised in Marc Rontsch paper which dealt with the digital scholarly edition of Michael Moerane archive.  Cynthia Kros' exploration of the issues around writing a commissioned work on Jeppe High School for Girls raised the questions of how such work relies on pre-existing networks and whether it reproduces history in the image of the desired network.  The archive of silences and omissions and the lot of not telling, in particular around marginal women's stories, arose powerfully in Tracey Randle's paper on Philida.  Finally, Verne Harris' paper raised complementary questions of the 'work' of memory, the spectrality of the archive and questions of accountability.  Day two closed with a book panel celebrating the publication of Hedley Twidle's Experiments with Truth, with responses from Lesley Cowling and Verne Harris.  Many chapters of his book were developed in previous APC workshops.

Questions of language and publicness dominated day three, which began strongly with Thokozani Mhlambi's paper presenting 'sensing' as knowledge and language as a key archive which changes but also conserves. Daniel Dix's paper reverberated with Wade Smit's from the first day, showing the ways in which the publication of a book was a major intervention in public life in the early colonial period in Natal and what was at stake with its launch.  Lesley Cowling's book proposal on a history of the commercial black press in South African public life raised questions how imagined publics were constructed during different periods.  Questions of how debate and discussion take place in the early nation-making period in Lesotho surfaced in Sibusiso Nkomo's paper, highlighting that newspapers were only one aspect.  Precious Bikitsha's MA proposal raises questions of self-archiving by language and poetry through the works of Nontsizi Mgqwetho, while Melathisi Ncityana's work raised the issue of the possibilities of 'recovering' the 'traces' of history (or something else) through amaqhalo AkwaXhosa (Xhosa proverbs).  Finally, the day ended with Himal Ramji's chapter from his PhD which, like the beginning of the first day, raised questions of historiographical method and how to write a history while providing at the same a historiography of the sources used, in this case in relation to Nongqawuse.