Unsettled History

Making South African Public Pasts
Leslie Witz, Gary Minkley, and Ciraj Rassool
An engrossing look at how history has been produced, contested, and unsettled in South Africa from Mandela’s release to 2010.


Unsettled History examines South African society and the construction and presentation of its public pasts, from Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 to South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup ®. Conventionally represented as a time of rectifying the silences and distortions of settler history through inclusion and recovery, the focus here instead is on the shifts in processes and locations of historicizing and the unsettled state of categories of framing history in post-apartheid South Africa. This era saw fundamental transformations in the order of knowledge: from the academy to the public; from popular history to public history; from history-as-lesson to history-as-forum.

Leslie Witz, Gary Minkley, and Ciraj Rassool take the reader to sites of historical production in which complex ideas about pasts are invoked, and navigate a path toward understanding the agencies of image-making and memory production. This volume is the outcome of the authors’ intensive collaborative research and engagement over twenty-five years on questions including the production and performance of apartheid history; the cultural politics of social history; South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and practices of orality; tourism as an arena of image-making and historical construction; museums as sites of heritage production for a new South Africa; photographs, archival meanings, and the construction of the social documentary; and the centenary commemorations of the South African War and the making of race. The authors not only witnessed many of these instances of history-making but were also participants in their constitution.

“This book will be read as a call for political and social understanding connected to historical engagement.”
—Susan Legêne, Vrije University, Amsterdam

Leslie Witz is Professor of History at the University of the Western Cape.

Gary Minkley is Professor of History and National Research Foundation South African Research Chair in Social Change at the University of Fort Hare.

Ciraj Rassool is Professor of History at the University of the Western Cape.

Praise / Awards

  • "Unsettled History is at once a trenchant critique of arguments for academic primacy in the making of public history and a useful chronicle of the major figures who shaped the dominant thinking and the public representations of it."
    --Journal of Social History
  • "The essays are all keenly alert to the ways in which categories and curatorial practices from the old regime—“fossils,” the authors call them, in a lovely riff on South Africa’s distinctive history of museology—continue to operate in the post-apartheid era."
    --American Historical Review
  • "Unsettled History makes a valuable contribution to scholarship in historical studies in South and southern Africa because as a new whole it shows how
    post-apartheid South Africa is a place of vibrant public histories worthy of debate and contest."
    --South African Historical Journal

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 328pp.
  • 30 halftones.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07334-4

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  • $69.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05334-6

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  • $29.95 U.S.

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