Pioneering regional history studies in South Africa : reflections within the former Section for Regional History at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Van Eeden, Elize S.
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In the early 1970s, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) explored the possibility of establishing a regional history studies section within the Institute for Historical Research (IHR), which was founded in 1969. At the helm as director was a military historian, Commandant C.M. Bakkes. After the institute had been founded, a few young upcoming historians were appointed under his leadership. One of the early appointments was Mr (later Dr) Arie Oberholster. He was expected to be the driving force behind the IHR's planned regional studies section. Because the initiative was only a proposal (although passionately driven) in a still empty vessel, the IHR tasked Oberholster to explore, observe and learn from the international community in Europe and the USA. He did so for three months in 1974. Oberholster's insights, and the efforts of his counterpart Dr C.C. (Callie) Eloff, formed the cornerstone upon which the IHR's Section for Urban and Regional History was based shortly after July 1974. This discussion is in essence a recapitulation of this first formal initiative in South Africa to pioneer research in the field of regional history studies. It reveals how international thinking and doing helped to shape the early leadership's thinking about research in this comprehensive and challenging but exciting field of regional history. It is unfortunate that the IHR and all its activities were closed down in the early 1990s. This action brought constructive regional history studies to a standstill, and ended an initiative which could have flourished in the modern social history of South Africa. It has been suggested that the firm foundation from which regional history studies departed in the former IHR of the HSRC (ideas, planning, research capacity, networking, publication, education and methodology) should be re-instated and continued in a newly created historical institute or regional institute with a much broader and deeper scope of regional history studies than any effort that has been made since the IHR was closed. If this is not done, South Africa will continue to lose valuable historical memory daily among black, white, coloured, Indian and other communities in all the provincial regions of the country.
- Faculty of Humanities 
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