The empathy imperative : primary narratives in South African history teaching

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

National and international literature on intergenerational dialogue presents the sharing of primary narratives as necessary to prevent an atrocity from happening again. International literature on history education and memory studies questions this ‘never again’ imperative, pointing out that remembrance does not necessarily lead to redemption. The aim of this research is to conduct a similar exercise by investigating the following paradox within South African history education. On the one hand, public spaces such as the District Six Museum and the Cape Town Holocaust Centre acknowledge and involve primary witnesses in the education of the younger generations. On the other hand, South African history teachers are expected to know how to bring about change, while their multiple positionings, being both teachers and primary witnesses to the Apartheid regime, are neglected. The thesis sets out to address this paradox through a case study of means by which Grade Nine history teachers and museum facilitators use and construct primary narratives about the Holocaust and Apartheid Forced Removals in classroom and museum interactions with learners. A dialogue with the interrelated fields of oral history, trauma research and memory and narrative studies, as well as positioning theory and pedagogical theories on history education and the mediation of knowledge forms the theoretical basis for the study.

Includes abstract.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 229-240).