Regional, local, urban and rural history as nearby spaces and places: historiographical and methodological reflections.
Van Eeden, Elize S
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The purpose of this article is to review the almost 50 years of formal regional and local history research practices in South Africa under the umbrella of a variety of rural and urban trends, themes and phenomena. This revisit of research practice is not approached from the traditional angle of critically debating the visibility of the research in historiography through publications (it is, after all, an extraordinarily broad field of study to cover, which may not correctly serve each author in the broader and/or local history). Rather the focus is on analysing where and when regional or local history in South Africa got its momentum and how historians have broadly assessed their progress and future in presenting and carrying out regional and local history research. International influences on historians and other academics in the humanities and social sciences which surface are also discussed. The reader is also exposed to a concise exposition of modern-day efforts in the field of integrative research that have been necessary in regional and/or local history research for decades. Local research methodologies used in the past have been combined with integrative methodology models to create an integrative multidisciplinary research methodology required for carrying out regional and local research in modern-day practice. Because no single definition of the concepts of local and regional history exists, its meaning in literature is first thrashed out to strengthen understanding of the term and the approach to it in this discussion. This debate, among others, was inspired by, and is part of, the commemoration of the journal New Contree’s 35 years of existence. The journal’s involvement in the dissemination of regional and urban history, especially during the early part of its existence, is discussed. It is hoped that this article’s review of the past will inspire South African historians to revisit regional, local, urban and/or rural spaces and places in South Africa. This could be done perhaps with the view to strengthening the methodologies used in regional history studies and to ambitiously embrace possibilities for engaging in a variety of integrative research from bottom-up and top-down perspectives. This may be the only way to progress towards inclusive regional histories as contributions to the understanding of regions.
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