Global South Lecture Series | Ciraj Rassool (Cape Town) - Public history as counter-museology: Journeys through Museum Transformation in Africa and Europe
Ciraj Rassool | Department of History, University of Western Cape, South Africa
Public history as counter-museology: Journeys through Museum Transformation in Africa and Europe
The beginnings of public history in South Africa lie in disciplinary reconfigurations that occurred in late-apartheid and in the early years of democracy, especially in the ways that history became the discipline of rethinking citizenship and personhood with and through museums. These reconfigurations, interrogations and experimentations became the basis for rethinking public history, not only for a practice of critical museology, but even for what we can term a ‘counter-museology’. Public history emerged in South Africa as a critique of the recovery claims of social history and popular history as a perpetuation of academic expertise and recovery as atonement. From this critique of knowledge hierarchies, an argument was made for an engaged form of historical practice, within different sites and genres of the production of history, and for the relocation of disciplinary expertise from the academy into institutions of public culture. Public history as critical historical practice was more than mere critical heritage studies, more than decolonisation, seen as the alteration of labels and addition of contextualising notices and signboards. Amidst all the complex challenges of making a society out of the ravages of multiple colonialisms and colonialities, as well as apartheid, these museum interventions constituted efforts at removing racism from the very organisation and epistemic foundations of the museum. Indeed, these were efforts at the reorganisation of knowledge in museums, interventions in deep, epistemic decolonisation, in rethinking the museum beyond the government of things, as a domain for remaking persons and societies, through projects of assembly, annunciation and social criticism. This new museology of critical citizenship might even have seen the inauguration of a new counter-museology.