UCT Humanities

UCT Humanities

UCT Humanities, With close to 6000 students, the Faculty of Humanities is the second largest faculty at the University of Cape Town. 75% of our student population is at undergraduate level. The Faculty comprises 16 vibrant academic departments located in three main clusters: the Arts, the Social Sciences and the Performing and Creative Arts. Common to all is a focus on the human condition, in all its dimensions.
With four SARChI Research Chairs, 2 Mellon Research Chairs as well as 86 new and renewed NRF-rated researchers, UCT Faculty of Humanities enjoys a strong tradition in interdisciplinary research and teaching.  Our academics equip students with skills that are crucial for engaging with the material and non-material aspects of being human. We produce exceptional graduates who possess imagination, insight, mental agility and analytical skills. We prepare young people for a variety of career paths in the public and private sectors, in the media space, in the NGO sector and in research and academia.
Geographically our academic departments are housed on four UCT campuses, one in the city centre and three in Rondebosch. Hiddingh Campus is in the heart of Cape Town on the site of UCT’s predecessor, The South African College, and houses the Michaelis School of Fine Art; the Drama Department and The Institute for Creative Arts (ICA). The majority of our academic departments are located on Upper Campus, while the School of Dance and the South African College of Music are located on Lower Campus.
UCT Faculty of Humanities is an Afropolitan institution, a centre of excellence on the continent and an intellectual meeting point between Africa and the world.
SARCHi Research Chairs:

  • Professor Carolyn Hamilton
  • Professor Rajend Mesthrie
  • Professor Abdulkader Tayob
  • Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza

Mellon Research Chairs:

Click here to read more about Humanities research institutes.
NRF rated researchers:
There are a total of *89 NRF-rated Researchers in the Faculty of Humanities. Currently, our overall ratings for new or renewed NRF ratings for researchers is: 5 A, 29 B, 46 C and 6 Y. (*as at November 2017)

Distinguished Teacher Awards:
The Distinguished Teacher Award (DTA) is the highest accolade given to teaching staff at all levels within the university and recognises excellent teaching. The following are current members of staff of the Faculty of Humanities who have received the award:

Academic Department Year of award
Mr N Bakker School of Education 1988
Professor H J Snyman School of Languages and Literatures 1989
Associate Professor L Marx English Language and Literature 1992
Professor N Worden Historical Studies 1992
Mrs G Solomons School of Languages and Literatures 1993
Associate Professor C Weare Drama 1993
Associate Professor M Adhikari Historical Studies 1995
Associate Professor R Mendelsohn Historical Studies 1996
Professor D H Foster Psychology 1999
Professor D Benatar Philosophy 1999
Professor V Bickford-Smith Historical Studies 2000
Associate Professor R S Edgecombe English Language and Literature 2001
Professor H Philips Historical Studies 2001
Professor A Mager Historical Studies 2002
Associate Professor B Liebl South African College of Music 2003
Dr H Schomer Psychology 2004
Dr P Anderson English Language and Literature 2005
Dr Z Erasmus Sociology 2006
Associate Professor J Bennett African Gender Institute 2007
Dr V Everson School of Languages and Literatures 2008
Associate Professor C Clarkson English Language and Literature 2009
Associate Professor M Steyn Sociology 2009
Associate Professor M Campbell South African College of Music 2011
Dr S Levine Social Anthropology 2011
Dr H MacDonald Social Anthropology 2013
Dr H Twiddle English Language and Literature 2013
Dr I Rijsdijk Centre for Film and Media Studies 2013
Dr J Hardman School of Education 2015
Dr A Reisenberger School of Languages and Literatures 2015
UCT Book Awards:
The UCT Book Award recognises the publication of outstanding books written by members of staff. Published works in any category, including monographs, textbooks, novels, collections and popularisations are eligible for consideration by the Book Award Committee.

  • Dr Litheko Modisane (Centre for Film and Media Studies) received the 2016 UCT Book Award for his new book South Africa’s Renegade Reels. He wrote the book while doing his post-doc at UCT and the university of Michigan between 2010 and 2011. He has subsequently given talks on the book in various places including at Wits, UCT, University of Michigan, and the New School University in New York.
  • Associate Professor Sa’diyya Shaikh (Department of Religious Studies) received the 2015 UCT Book Award for  Sufi Narratives of Intimacy.Her book combines feminism and Sufism in such a unique way that critics have labelled it “ground-breaking” and “pioneering”
  • The 2014 UCT Book Award was presented to Professor Nicoli Nattrass (School of Economics) for her book The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back. This is the second time that Prof Nattrass recives this award; the first was in 2005 for her book, The Moral Economy of AIDS in South Africa.
  • Sirkusboere, a novel by Sonja Loots (School of Languages and Literaturesreceived the UCT Book Award in 2013.
  • The Jewish Book Council announced in 2010 that Place and Displacement in Jewish History and Memory: Zakor V’makor,edited by David Cesarani, Tony Kushner and Milton Shain (2009), placed as joint runner-up in the annual National Jewish Book Award in the category of Anthologies and Collections.
  • In 2009 Professor Pippa Skotnes of the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts was awarded the prize for her work Claim to the Country: The Archive of Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd.
  • In 2009 Prof Nigel Penn of the Department of Historical Studies was recognised for his book Forgotten Frontier: Colonist and Khoisan on the Cape’s Northern Frontier in the 19th Century.
  • The UCT Book Award for 2007 was presented to Professor Bill Nasson of the historical studies department for his book Britannia’s Empire – Making a British World (Tempus, 2004). This was his second such award.
  • The 2006 UCT Book Award was presented to Professor Peter Knox-Shaw, an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of English Language and Literature, for his work Jane Austen and the Enlightenment. Knox-Shaw was a full-time member and senior lecturer of the English department from 1975 to 1991.


Dean’s welcome

Welcome to all Humanities Students!  In deciding to study Humanities you have chosen to place yourself within an academic community that deals with perhaps the most important questions that face us as human beings – we attempt to understand the messages found in literature, art, music, history, philosophy, society and religion, to understand significance and meaning. This is a sound base that prepares you for life in a rapidly changing, multicultural world.
The Faculty of Humanities is one of largest faculties at the University of Cape Town and a leading centre for the study of Humanities on the African continent. We are a dynamic, creative and multicultural community that places great value on personal growth and intellectual stimulation through wide-ranging and innovative teaching and research.  We offer the following opportunities:
Growth. In the Humanities, we teach our students critical thinking, inter-cultural communication, ethical reasoning and aesthetic appreciation, encouraging you to be analytical, to question, to engage in ‘out of the box’ thinking, to ask the difficult questions and to use your imagination in dealing both with the theoretical and with real world problems. If this sounds exciting, then you will definitely thrive in this environment and you will enjoy your time with us.
Support. Whether you come from a family whose members have studied at UCT for generations or whether you are the first member of your family or community to come here, we understand that the transition from high school to university can be daunting. There are a number of student support resources are available to assist you along the way:
i)                   Make sure to attend our Orientation programme because it is a vital introduction into the Faculty.
ii)                 Make time to download the Humanities student guide booklets (available on the faculty website) as these will help you navigate student life at UCT.
iii)               Members of academic and administrative support staff are on hand to assist you every step of the way.
iv)               We provide ongoing peer mentorship for those students who need this support.
Visit our Faculty Office in the Beattie Building for more information on these and other resources available to Humanities students.
Learning. With 16 academic departments that span traditional academic disciplines and the creative and performing arts, with over seventy NRF-rated researchers and internationally respected academics, with many winners of the University’s Distinguished Teacher Award, you will be taught by the best and will be challenged to broaden and deepen your thinking and improve your writing skills. The enormous variety of academic programmes, majors and courses on offer within Humanities enables flexibility in tailoring your academic experience to your passions and interests. This website is a comprehensive resource for information on our undergraduate and postgraduate degree offerings as well as research opportunities.
Finally, I encourage you to utilise your time here to engage fully with the academic material, to be open to learning from your teachers and from your peers and to use every opportunity for networking so that you graduate from UCT a changed individual, equipped to make a difference in society.
Congratulations on making this excellent choice for your future! I wish you every success on your journey.
Professor David Wardle

Why Humanities at UCT?

Study in the Humanities offers much more than skills related to the workplace. It is one of the best ways of preparing students for critical citizenship in a rapidly changing world, a world that demands versatility and creativity rather than mere training.

Diversity is our key strength:
As the largest faculty on campus, the Faculty of Humanities is home to the majority of Undergraduate and Postgraduate students annually. We attract students and academics from across the globe which means exposure to a rich diversity of knowledge, experience and best practice. The Faculty consists of 3 academic clusters:

  1. The Arts;
  2. Social Sciences and
  3. The Performing Arts.

There are 15 dynamic departments each offering a wide array of courses and facilities. This diversity gives our students freedom of choice in tailoring their academic experience. We are part of an Afropolitan institution, a centre of excellence on the continent and an intellectual meeting point between Africa and the world.


Research and Teaching:
UCT Faculty of Humanities has a reputation for demanding excellence from our staff and students. We are home to some of South Africa’s most celebrated intellectuals, including: award-winning composers and singers; renowned artistic directors and literary critics; world famous novelists and poets; national policy makers and advisors to government; sought-after economists; and highly respected social science researchers.
We enjoy a strong tradition in research and teaching, producing graduates who actively contribute to advancing new horizons of knowledge. The Faculty has four NRF Research Chairs who actively promote interdisciplinary research across the Faculty through these research groupings:

  • Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA)
  • Centre for Social Science Research (CSSR)
  • Gordon Institute for Performing & Creative Arts (GIPCA)
  • And many more…

Humanities have 79 NRF-rated researchers: including 5 A-rated researchers. Since 1988, 27 Humanities staff members have received the UCT Distinguished Teacher Award.


Humanities graduates are sought after in the workplace:

  • We produce exceptional young people who possess imagination, insight, mental agility and analytical skills. As a result of these attributes, our graduates are highly sought after both locally and abroad.
  • Most of our students advance to postgraduate study which further enhances their skills and employment opportunities. A Humanities qualification prepares you for a multitude of career paths in the public sector, corporate workplace and in academia.

Analysis, argumentation, decision making and strong communication skills are valued and developed across all departments. These abilities provide an essential foundation for engaged citizenship and for entry into the world of work.


The Faculty of Humanities is the largest faculty at UCT, with approximately 6000 students, of which 79% are undergraduates. Students from 65 countries study in the Faculty, many of whom are Semester Study Abroad students.
The Faculty comprises 15 academic departments in three main clusters- the Arts, the Social Sciences and the Creative and Performing Arts- located on three campuses (Upper, Lower and Hiddingh).
The present Faculty was formed in 1999, as a result of a merger of the Faculties of Arts, Social Sciences, Education, Music and the Michaelis School of Fine Art.


Welcome to one of the largest and best-known Humanities Faculties in Southern Africa.
UCT’s Faculty of Humanities offers a range of programmes that foster communication, flexibility, imagination, social sensitivity, language competence, negotiating skills and the capacity to work in teams, rather than a narrow vocational training.
Apart from learning specific skills and knowledge in each subject, courses in the Humanities:

  • Provoke students to question what they hear, read and see;
  • Encourage students to seek out new ways of viewing today’s complex world and society;
  • Equip students to be independent thinkers and self-resourceful practitioners.

Students usually enter the Faculty of Humanities directly after secondary school or a ‘gap year’ and spend three to four years in our degree programmes, developing their own study paths from a wide choice of subjects. Some embark on specialised degrees, such as Film and Media, Social Work, Music, Theatre & Performance, Dance and Fine Art, Others combine courses from some of the Faculty’s 15 teaching departments and specialise in at least two subjects (known as majors), while adding other courses of their choice.
In any one year, our undergraduate population is 4000 students, from more than 43 different countries. About two-thirds are South Africans, from a very wide range of backgrounds, with the rest coming from the rest of Africa and abroad.
Our teaching takes place in a variety of ways: in large and medium size lectures, in seminars (smaller groups of students), and in tutorials (small focus groups attached to a particular course). Although the teaching medium is predominantly English, the campus itself is multi-lingual. You will hear Faculty members, support staff, and students speaking in a wide variety of South African and global languages, which generates a vibrant African and international atmosphere around our corridors and meeting places.