mirage

Contree: 1988 No 24

Boloka/Manakin Repository

Contree: 1988 No 24

 

Contents

No. 24, September 1988

Articles


Book reviews

Editorial

Relevance of (regional) historical research

Apart from having to account for the validity and reliability of his research, the human scientist is increasingly being called upon to justify the utility and relevance of his research findings for society as a whole. This poses questions such as: To what extent is the research relevant and aimed at explaining or solving a problem? Doest he research fulfil a need in society and contribute to the wellbeing of individuals and groups and to improving their quality of life?

History, as one of the humanities, is also under an obligation to consider answers to these questions. For, some of the most urgent problems facing South Africa are those in the socio-economic and political spheres, which are obviously also part of the historian's field of interest.

As early as 5 B.C. the Greek historian Thucydides pointed out that accurate knowledge of the past could be useful for a better understanding and handling of "the future. This claim has since been extended by emphasizing history's function of explaining the present and to identify principles and trends which could possibly serve as future guidelines. Historians have to analyse how the present is linked to the past and how the past informs the present. Furthermore, they have the task of revealing structures, processes, change and continuity, and of placing these within their historical context. By looking from the present to the past, perspective and vital background information are provided. The New History School (USA), in particular, stresses the importance of a "present-mindedness" in history. Similarly the British relativist Edward Carr maintains that we can only fully understand the present in the light of the past.

The historian is further destined to recreate the most accurate picture of the past in order to elucidate the issues of the day, Benedetto Croce argues in this regard that all true history is contemporary history or, phrased differently, the past is expected to assist in supplying answers to contemporary problems. The same principles apply to historical research on a local and regional level, where experts agree that the history of a community should be studied retrospectively ("backwards"), beginning with a present-day problem and tracing it to its roots. More problem-orientated research is therefore needed "to understand some problem facing a community, a problem with contemporary significance but historical roots".

This issue of Contree includes an example of such research, namely the impact of formal segregation on the local community of Port Elizabeth. Some articles, with subjects of similar topical interest previously published in this journal, have dealt with depopulation and the decline of small platteland towns in South Africa, disputed international boundaries, housing for Blacks and the persistence of the casual poor in urban areas.

Therefore historians should concentrate to a greater degree on applied research, especially because of the relevance of such topics to decision-makers.

Redaksioneel

Relevansie van (streek-) historiese navorsing

Aangesien van rekenskap oor die geldigheid en betroubaarheid van sy navorsing word toenemend van die geesteswetenskaplike verwag om ook die nuttigheidswaarde en relevansie daarvan vir die breë gemeenskap te verantwoord. Dit lei tot vrae soos die volgende: In watter mate is die navorsing toepaslik en gerig op die verklaring of oplossing van 'n probleem? Vervul dit 'n behoefte in die samelewing en lewer dit 'n bydrae om die welsyn en lewensgehalte van enkelinge en groepe te verbeter?

As deel van die humaniora word van die geskiedeniswetenskap verwag om eweneens oor antwoorde hierop te besin. Want van die knellendste vraagstukke in Suid-Afrika lê op die sosiaal-ekonomiese en politieke terrein wat vanselfsprekend ook die belangstellingsveld van die geskiedenis is.

Die Griekse historikus Thucydides het reeds in 5 v.C. aangevoer dat akkurate inligting oor die verlede waardevol kan wees vir 'n beter begrip en hantering van die toekoms. Hierdie aanspraak is mettertyd uitgebrei deur klem te lê op die funksie van geskiedenis om die hede te verklaar en tendense of beginsels te identifiseer wat moontlik as toekomstige riglyne kan dien. Historici moet aantoon hoe hede aan verlede verbind is en hoe die verlede die hede inlig. Hulle taak is verder om strukture, prosesse, verandering en kontinuïteit bloot te lê en binne tydsverloop te plaas. Deur uit die hede na die verlede terug te kyk, word perspektief verkry en onmisbare agtergrondinligting verskaf: Veral die New History School (VSA) wys op die waarde van die sogenaamde hede-ingesteldheid ("present-mindedness") van geskiedenis, terwyl die hede vir die Britse relativis Edward Carr ook slegs ten volle in die lig van die verlede begryp kan word.

In noue aansluiting hierby is die historikus geroepe om die verlede so noukeurig as moontlik uit te beeld sodat dit hedendaagse probleme kan toelig. Benedetto Croce beweer juis in hierdie verband dat elke ware geskiedenis 'n geskiedenis van die hede is, of anders gestel: van die verlede word verwag om antwoorde op hedendaagse vraagstukke te help verskaf. Dieselfde beginsels geld vir historiese navorsing op plaaslike en streekvlak. Kenners is dit eens dat 'n retrospektiewe ('terugwaartse') benadering gevolg behoort te word by die bestudering van 'n gemeenskap se geskiedenis. Die uitgangspunt moet 'n probleem in die hede wees waarvan die oorsprong en ontwikkeling bepaal word. Die pleidooi is dus vir meer probleemgerigte navorsing, "to understand some problem facing a community, a problem with contemporary significance but historical roots".

'n Voorbeeld van so 'n navorsingstema verskyn in hierdie uitgawe van Contree waar segregasiemaatreëls in Port Elizabeth en die uitwerking daarvan op die plaaslike gemeenskap bespreek word. Ander onderwerpe met 'n soortgelyke aktuele strekking wat tevore in die tydskrif opgeneem is, sluit in ontvolkingstendense en die verval van klein dorpe op die platteland, omstrede internasionale grense, Swart behuising en die lot van geleentheidsarmes in stedelike gebiede.

Dit het dus nodig geword dat historici hulle in hoër mate sal toespits op toegepaste navorsingsterreine vanweë die relevansie wat sodanige inligting vir besluitnemers het.

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