Presented by: Leslie Witz, Ph.D.
ICGC / University of the Western Cape Mellon Research Chair
Professor of History, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
ABSTRACT: This talk will build upon both my in-depth work on museums and history and provide a return to and critical reflection on the Write Your Own History book that I wrote in the late 1980s. Situated within a social history approach Write Your Own History was about absences, distortion, silences and marginality, with the task of community-based historians designated as recovering, correcting and giving voice, primarily through making use of oral history techniques. After 1994 in South Africa this type of research and the associated methodologies appeared ideally situated to provide new museum and heritage projects a means to strive for inclusivity by adding more voices, objects and explanations. At the same time the authority of a professional and factual past that appeared as alternative and forged in struggles against apartheid was asserted. In my talk I will focus on how oral history has been inscribed into post-apartheid public pasts as a manoeuvre towards inclusivity and as apparent bearer of the intangible, implying origins, development, transparency, and a supposed ability to reach hidden core truths. By bringing together critical insights from oral, visual and public history the talk seeks to analyze how oral histories are produced to take on the appearance of being authoritative and intangible.