Associate Researchers

John Wright

JOHN WRIGHTI was born and brought up the in the shadow of the Natal Drakensberg. I worked for 44 years as a student, archivist, journalist and academic historian in Pietermaritzburg, and, in my youth, for two years as a journalist exiled in Johannesburg. At the end of 2005, I retired from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and in 2007 moved to a new life in the Big Smoke and the bright lights.

The Rock Art Research Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand provides me with a research base. I continue with long-standing research projects in the history of the KwaZulu-Natal region before colonial time, and feel my way into new historical landscapes on the Highveld. I discovered the excitements of doing archival research when working on my master’s thesis in the Natal Archives in the late 1960s. This was published by the University of Natal Press in 1971 with the title ‘Bushman Raiders of the Drakensberg 1840-1870’. More than forty years later, I am chuffed to find that the book has become an active archive in its own right among a new generation of students at the Rock Art Research Institute. I discovered the excitements of consciously giving shape to a documentary archive in the work that I did with Colin Webb from 1971 until his death in 1992, and then alone, on the volumes of what became The James Stuart Archive (the title was thought up by Colin Webb). I have lived with this work for my entire academic career, and am now on volume seven with co-oeditor Mbongiseni Buthelezi (with one more to come): I continue to find new ways of reading what Stuart’s informants had to say to him a hundred years ago and more about their pasts and about what people of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations had told them about their own pasts.

More recently, I have discovered the excitements of thinking critically about archive and the world of Dust (to invoke Carolyn Steedman rather than Jacques Derrida) in the company of the fellow spirits from a range of academic backgrounds and experiences who come together in the workshops of APC. It is one of the most stimulating intellectual forums that I have belonged to: like most of its members, I imagine, I find I come away from its sessions thinking in new ways not only about the archive of the past but also about the ongoing contortions of the often weird society we inhabit in the present.