Catalytic Projects Workshop: New visions and ideas for a South African humanities

This workshop brought together researchers to present on the theme ‘New visions and ideas for a South African humanities’. The first collective airing of the research undertaken within the Catalytic Projects programme, it explored the precise ways in which research on various themes and bringing together various disciplines are catalytic. The Catalytic Projects programme of the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) supports coherent, collaborative research programmes that involve researchers or a network of researchers in approved study areas.

A catalyst, in this sense, is something that produces benefits for the wider system of which it is a part. In other words, in addition to the direct benefits of such projects – which would include, for example, contributing to an understanding of the history of southern Africa, or to a better understanding of the implications of philosophies, world views and concepts of African languages – there would be a knock-on, broader benefit to research in the higher education system and to society as a whole. Additionally, support is given to proposals to engage in research in largely unexplored areas as well as thematic annual events aimed at broadening public participation in, and promotion of, the humanities and social sciences as a vital part of public culture.

The research was presented under three themes:

  • Reclaiming our pasts – which included a pre-1652 historiography, as well as exploration of renowned heritage sites Mapungubwe and the Richtersveld, and a consideration of concept formation in African languages.
  • The past in the present – which included remembering traditions of popular education as well as uncovering hidden voices in the arts and the modes of creativity therein.
  • Envisioning futures – which included a consideration of socio-economic policy alternatives for the mining industry, hidden voices and unpublished work with regard to ‘the national question’ under apartheid, and a discussion of the reconfiguration of the world system.