Impressions on conducting and reporting interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary environmental research in South Africa a historian's perspective
Van Eeden, Elize S
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Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would get the opportunity in my academic lifetime to combine, into one inaugural lecture, my regional history research experience in a wide variety of disciplinary fields, and also marry it with my love for History in the field of History teaching methodology and its future dynamics! It was exciting, but at the same time a very complex and serious journey into the mapping and rethinking process regarding the positioning of History in the future. The intention is to stir myself and colleagues out of their possible existing comfort zones, to think anew, to allow us the freedom of thinking and debating more vociferously on how historians think about environmental history from the perspectives of interdisciplinary (ID) and transdisciplinary (TD) research approaches. The main questions are perhaps whether History as a discipline could and should participate and be involved in and contribute to ID and TD research opportunities. Although some South African historians have focussed intensively on researching and discussing the trends in the environmental history of South Africa in the past decades, no methodology and historical perspective have been suggested yet to to participate in ID research cooperations and even the wide spectrum of research on environmental history per se. Recently more ID and TD research contributions by historians in environmental history have been noticeably reflected. Some historians appear not to be in favour of, nor familiar with, these kinds of research approaches, especially the greyness that TD can sometimes reflect in terms of research quality, source validity, methodology and publication value. In many ways my involvement in environmental history also commenced when I did historical research, in particularly in the former Carletonville (presently Merafong) area for more than 20 years. In a recent revisiting of the area a renewed point of departure in research was made by focussing on environmental crisis history in the former Far West Rand and West Rand areas (eg Mogale City) with water issues as one of the biggest concerns. The experience obtained from this ongoing research could be of value by serving as an example of how to structure a research methodology in environmental history, especially in histories dealing with environmental crises. Although it is true that every local area or region possesses its own historiography - and its own environmental historical historiography, for that matter - the methodology, sources, pitfalls/drawbacks in doing environmental history research in labelled environmental crisis areas differ only marginally. The lecture starts with a concise conceptual view on what disciplinarity and especially ID and TD entail. This discussion then continues to provide glimpses on broader international trends and thoughts regarding ID and TD research. Trends closer to home are also touched on with some preliminary notes on a quite contemporary historiography of dealing with TD research. A 'Triangular Model" is proposed to historians dealing with ID and TD research. A concise case study is presented merely to serve as example. Some suggestions to consider when post graduate students enter ID or TD training at the Higher Education and Training (HET) level are also made, seeing that TD research currently is mainly steered from the School of Basic Sciences at the North-West University's Vaal Triangle Campus. The hope is that this discussion in both general and specific terms will stimulate not only debate within history circles, but will also particularly serve as a point of departure for discussions in positioning History and historians in ID and TD environmental history research. A number of suggestions for innovative and sustainable tertiary training in especially the Human and Social Sciences are offered in the "way forward" section of which HET institutions could also take cognisance of.