Julia Wells, Head, Isikhumbuzo Applied History Unit, Rhodes University

Proposal Type


  • Seeking General Feedback and Interest
Related Topics
  • Inclusion
  • Memory
  • Place

While painful events in the past cannot be changed, how we feel about them can.  Our team demonstrates how the story of an unsung hero from the early days of colonial conquest in South Africa can inspire and uplift audiences. Through a carefully constructed process of dialog and exploration, new understandings of history emerge and are shared through innovative, artistic  outputs. The team shows how the academic world of history and the creative world of youthful artists, using their own contemporary mediums of poetry and the distinctively South African pantsula style of dancing can both tell the story and convey a message of hope. Participants are invited to come and learn a few new steps and how to take the whole process home with them.


Members of the Isikhumbuzo (Memories) Applied History Unit (IAHU) from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, wish to lead a session which falls into the Experiential category.  It will deal with how to creatively communicate complex interpretations of troubled and painful pasts to the public, using structured performances. It will include analytical inputs, illustrations using dance and poetry and audience participation.

The process of combining history with art unlocks release from feeling trapped in the harmful effects of the past. Performance tells stories in a far more dynamic way than words alone. The IAHU has grappled with telling the untold stories of colonial conquest and racism in South Africa through a series of community dialogues and public performances.  The Unit is based in Grahamstown which was the historic headquarters of the British military in South Africa starting 200 years ago and which maintains a strong colonial visual presence in its landscapes.

We address the mindsets of both those who suffered and still suffer from the oppressions of the past, as well as of those whose ancestors perpetuated them.

The IAHU team consists of the following:

Prof. J Wells:  introduction on how the past has been used for healing in South Africa

Thapelo Mokoatsi: how academics can more effectively engage with the wider public

Masixole Heshu: wrestling with the stories of conquest through performance

Imvelaphi   a 2-person dance ensemble which combines contemporary poetry styles with South African pantsula dancing

We are looking for support in cash or kind to make it possible for the team to travel to the NCPH conference next year. All suggestions welcome.

If you have a direct offer of assistance, sensitive criticism, or wish to pass along someone’s contact information confidentially, please get in contact directly: Julia Wells, [email protected]

If you have general ideas or feedback to share, please feel free to use the comments feature below.

All feedback and offers of assistance should be submitted by July 2, 2017.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.