The Castle of Good Hope : an examination of controversies and conflicting perceptions : a case study in public history

Bachelor Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Public history as a distinct discipline emerged in America in the 1970s and by the 1980s a Committee and Council had been established aimed at promoting historical studies, broadening historical knowledge among the general public and opening up opportunities for historians to work in the private sector, rather than as purely academic historians. The discipline is broken up into a variety of aspects: archival administration, museology, publishing and editing, historic preservation, business history and the media. Historic preservation is an important aspect both in the genre of public history broadly and in South Africa today where the new government of the ANC views the historical buildings in Cape Town as elitist and portraying a narrowly white, ethnocentric view of heritage. This makes the arena of public history one in which much ongoing debate can be found around the various Historical Monuments in Cape Town. The Castle is a crucial example, being the first building in South Africa and strongly linked with colonialism through its history and present use by the army. It has been the centre of much debate and controversy recently with the Castle Management Act being passed in 1993, showing the extent of the debate which extended to parliament. It was decided to study this site and evaluate the background to the debates, considering how new, or not the debates are, and discuss the images of the Castle presented to the public over the last century. The conflicting perceptions of the Castle over, for example its restoration will also be considered. Further, as an historical discussion, it will not be focused on the physical building, as such, as an architecturally orientated discussion would be, but rather the focus will be on the symbolism present in the building, the way the Castle is portrayed in tourist guides and school textbooks, and the response to key debates such as the restoration of the Castle and the presence of an army headquarters in an historical monument by the public as shown in newspaper articles and editorial letters. This discussion will begin with a legislative overview of the Castle and lead into a discussion on the key debates as seen in newspaper articles over the last 70 years. At the same time a history of the restoration of the Castle will be outlined. The restoration itself will be the subject of the following chapter where issues surrounding the conservation of historical buildings in general as well as specific issues surrounding the restoration of the Castle will be considered. Lastly an analysis of the tourist-orientated literature and school-textbooks, influential in forming the broader public's perception of the Castle will be carried out.

Bibliography: pages 66-74.