South African University history: a historiographical overview (Englisch)

In: African Historical Review   ;  48 ,  1  ;  56-82  ;  2016

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University history has traditionally been the domain of the commemorative publication which presented institutions in a very favourable light, full of the boasts of growth and achievement. In considering university histories, it is useful to examine this traditional approach as well as more recent scholarly developments in the study of the history of institutions of higher learning internationally. In South Africa, most universities have some form of published history, although these vary greatly in scope, depth and critical approach. This article briefly considers volumes produced on South African universities and their past in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Trends and approaches evident in this wide variety of publications are highlighted. Questions such as the choice of moments of origin and commemoration, the effect of Apartheid on the retelling of the past and the use of either an autobiographical or a collaborative approach are considered. The comparative lack of histories of former ‘non-white’ universities is also explored, while the predominance of interest in matters of institutional identity in the post-Apartheid context is highlighted.

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