UWC Masters, The History Department offers innovative Masters programmes that are designed to produce highly competent researchers who are also critical and creative. The core courses revolve around methodological and thematic questions at the forefront of new historical writing. These prepare graduate students for their archival and field research, and develop their skills in interpretation and analysis. Core courses are accompanied by modules in specialized fields and subjects. The structured MA programmes require students to write a mini-thesis based on their original research.
The core courses in particular seek to demystify the conventional practice of History or historical production. We grapple with the dynamics of historical ‘sources’ and the institutions that house them, such as museums and archives. Those materials that historians cite as evidence or primary sources come in a variety of mediums. These include written documents in the archive, oral traditions and histories, visual representations such as photographs, and museum artifacts. All of these are put under scrutiny.
The term ‘primary sources’ is in fact misleading because it suggests a pure origin, a fount of unproblematic information, and even truth. But each form of historical trace carries the mark of its maker, and offers us an interpretation rather than a fact. The construction of any single piece of evidence – out of which we reconstruct ‘history’ – also creates silences because of what it excludes. In the MA programme we repeatedly ask about those silences, because they tell us about power, inside and outside the African continent.
The aim of the MA programme is therefore twofold. Firstly, it aims to empower students to access different forms of documentation or record of the past in whatever medium (text, voice, visual), in order to assemble a wide cross-section of information on a research topic. This is the first set of skills needed for path-breaking thesis research. But secondly, this course prepares students in such a way that they must be able to do an ethnography of every kind of trace they collect, as part of the critical thinking through of the material assembled.
In other words, students must be able to problematise (for example) the written texts in the archive, the oral histories based on memory, the material artifacts in a heritage project, and photographs produced by a mechanical or digital apparatus. An important way to do this is to ask what has been left outside the frame. This points to the structures and conventions of storytelling, as well as discursive formations, which we often take for granted. The point is to avoid reproducing the kinds of silences that have marked and marginalized the writing of history, and begin a more inclusive, imaginative approach.