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  1. I will always adore In Our Time. *sigh*

    Question — to what extent does South African history lump together the various ethnicities of the British Isles among the late 19th and early 20th century populations? I read a source recently that argued that the Irish in South Africa have been mainly overlooked (until fairly recently) because of a wish during the apartheid years not to show any fissures within the white community. Is that a valid opinion of South African politics and/or historiography?

    November 15, 2012
    • Good question. I’m not sure that your source is accurate, though. One of the reasons why there’s been fairly little research into the Irish/Scottish/Welsh in South Africa is because, unlike Canada, these identities lost their meaning pretty quickly after people arrived. I’m not absolutely sure why this was. One reason, certainly, was that between 1902 and 1910, there was a conscious effort from the British authorities to construct a white South African identity (we call this ‘South Africanism’). There was a great deal of anxiety during this period that the two white ‘races’ (English and Afrikaner) would not be able to rule South Africa together. Indeed, I think that it was because of the presence of Dutch-Afrikaners that there was a kind of collapsing of Welsh/Irish/Scottish identities into a generic South African Englishness in the nineteenth century.

      There is an astonishing absence of research into white Englishness in South Africa. I think this is partly because this group has never had the same kind of strong ethnic identity as other minorities in South Africa (and it’s pretty telling that there’s a fair amount of scholarship on histories of South Africa’s Jewish population). Tellingly, what research has been done on the Scottish/Irish etc has been done by Scottish/Irish etc historians – and is generally pretty awful. Most of those studies make the mistake of assuming that ‘Irishness’ and ‘Scottishness’ retained some meaning for the English-speakers who settled here. They didn’t.

      November 15, 2012
  2. Excellent post. Similar problems here in burundi – where largely constructed histories of ethnic groups by missionaries and colonisers have yet to be overcome – if they every will be, as they are now a central part of what people consider ‘authentic’ history.

    November 16, 2012
    • Thanks! I think the issue in South Africa is that historians have certainly revisited and rewritten the missionary histories of the nineteenth century. Although we may be accused of peddling the same versions of the past as Victorian colonisers, this is certainly no longer the case (and hasn’t been since, at least, the 1970s).

      November 16, 2012
      • The major revisiting here has – and continues to be (for many) – the affirmation of colonial-missionary inspired rewritings of ethnic origins and characteristics. Very grim.

        November 17, 2012
  3. Also, thanks for the links!

    November 16, 2012

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