The SARDC Teaching on-site workshop took place from October 2nd to 6th, 2023, at the Great Zimbabwe historical site.
The workshop allowed students from three SMUS partner universities to acquire new theoretical knowledge, learn about responsible research practices, gain exposure to archaeological sites, interact with advanced academics and learn about the importance of stakeholder and community engagement.
The workshop also benefited the more advanced researchers in the group by strengthening their teaching skills, facilitating knowledge sharing amongst peers, and facilitating greater interdisciplinary understanding and cooperation.
to strengthen the development of teaching and research skills;
to improve appreciation of pre-colonial societies; and
to draw relevant lessons that can contribute to current policy discussions.
Tanaka Mhlanga and Arthur Makoni. SARDC Regional Workshop Students and Lecturers.
Abridged excerpts from the SARDC Workshop Report
On-Site Teaching tour
The teaching tour was a team effort by Mr Kundishora Chipunza, Director of Research and Development at the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe, and Professor Munyaradzi Manyanga, Executive Dean of the Robert Mugabe School of Heritage and Education at Great Zimbabwe University who stressed that research of Great Zimbabwe and other historical African civilisations should be done in context. It is important to interrogate the sources of information and base interpretations on sound evidence viewed from an African perspective. Effective research methodologies should be rooted in African value systems that recognise local sources and processes, including governance and spiritual structures which had significant impact in protecting the environment, especially trees and water. It was agreed that the study of heritage sites such as Great Zimbabwe, Mapungubwe in South Africa or Kilwa in Tanzania requires an inter-disciplinary approach to understand the roles played by various disciplines. An understanding of the various approaches would ultimately inform methodologies to be used in the execution of research projects.
Tanaka Mhlanga and Arthur Makoni. Workshop visitors at the Great Zimbabwe site.
Oral History as a Source for Research
Prof. Lecocq spoke about how colonialism stripped Africans of history as some European historians were of the view that since there were no written works about Africa by Africans, then Africans had no history or had no stories to tell. This narrative changed following the book by Belgian historian Jan Vansina who argued in his book Oral Tradition as History that Africans do have a history which is in oral form. He wrote that to understand the history of Africa one needs to make use of the various oral sources. Like Vansina, Prof. Lecocq cautioned about the problem of those sources being distorted to suit certain narratives. Oral history changes over time and captures the social, economic and political situation of those telling the history, but the meaning of the issue to a particular society does not change much over time.
Case Study Research Methodology
Ms Gurira took participants through the characteristics of case study research and shared her experienced in undertaking three case studies. The first one was a Master’s level single case study into how the 2014 restoration work done at Naletale monument fared in maintaining the original state of the site. The research culminated in a study titled “The Monument We Want: Issues of Authenticity at Naletale National Monument.”
She spoke of the importance of collaborations among students where those undertaking research at the same heritage site could combine forces and do common aspects of their research together. In her case, she was one of five students who had been assigned to investigate the Naletale restoration work. She shared how the five found common ground to collaborate on some aspects of their research – despite having different research topics. This included organising combined interviews and peer reviews of each other’s work. This was taken as a best practice that current and future archaeology and history students should adopt as part of their research methodologies as it saves on time and costs.
Overview on Research Methodologies in History
Dr Mashingaidze called on students to read all texts critically and compare the various sources, considering the potential subjectivity of the messages. It is important for students to always interrogate the validity, reliability and relevance of sources to the theme or topic under discussion.
The same applies to the “silences in text” where students must look out for those issues or things that have been marginalised or not talked about during discussions or in writing about a particular subject.
He noted that oral traditions ensure that cultures remain alive as they are part of a community’s tangible heritage. He cited the praise poems that exist in most African societies as some of the oral traditions that help to keep cultures alive and act as rich sources of historical information. However, the efficacy of oral traditions as sources of historical information is hampered by challenges of fading memory among community members, distortion of information, and the issue of “telescoping” whereby there are inaccurate perceptions regarding time.
Oral history, on the other hand, is premised on engaging people who experienced specific events. It is a primary source of information and involves interviewing people who were involved or were affected by an event.
Urban History in Africa
Dr Edward stated that by its very nature, the study of urban history is interdisciplinary as it draws sources, perspectives and methods from different disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology, historical linguistics, geography, urban planning, economics and sociology.
The advent of independence in some African countries in the 1960s witnessed a spike in the documentation of urban history as local historians tried to understand issues to do with urbanisation. Attention to urban history further increased from the year 2000 as the challenges of urbanisation grew.
Dr Edward noted that several lessons could be drawn from the experiences of pre-colonial African urbanism. One such lesson is that residential and public structures in modern African cities and towns should be built by using locally available resources to ensure durability, economy, environmental-friendliness and ease of repair and maintenance.
There is also need for a review of the features of urbanism, in particular the one that relates to the fact that cities and towns are identified by the existence of large numbers of people not involved in agricultural activities. It was felt that this marker of an urban area may not be the case as agricultural activities are often prevalent in African cities and towns.
Early Southern African Cities and their Hinterlands: The Case from Mapungubwe
It was noted that without the communities that surrounded them, and other far-lying areas, cities such as Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe would not have survived as long as they did. They may have relied on these other areas for labour, food and trade. There are, therefore, important lessons to be drawn by modern urban planners from the experiences of such pre-colonial city-states.
The discussion also raised questions about the possible impact of climate change or climate variability on the sustainability of urban centres. Linked to the issue of research on role of agriculture at Mapungubwe, a corresponding question is whether change in weather patterns contributed to the demise of Mapungubwe, given that it is in the dry Limpopo Province of South Africa. Surely the original inhabitants of the area would have chosen that particular location because there was enough water. Should the impact of climate change on heritage be one of the issues to be included in the revised curriculum?
Tanaka Mhlanga and Arthur Makoni. SARDC Regional workshop students from Midlands State University, University Dar es Salaam, and the University of Pretoria in front of the Great Enclosure wall
How can Pre-Colonial African Knowledge Systems Inform Current Policy? Discussions on Urbanisation and Related Challenges in Southern and Eastern Africa.
The final plenary of the workshop was led by the workshop chair Dr Mashingaidze, and took the form of a roundtable during which senior scholars discussed several issues guided by a set of questions. The questions were as follows:
What is urban sustainability?
Was Great Zimbabwe a sustainable city?
What are some of the contemporary urban sustainability challenges?
What are some of the insights drawn from Great Zimbabwe that can inform policy decisions on urban sustainability in Eastern and Southern Africa?
Participants characterised urban sustainability as a set of inter-related elements that make up a system which facilitates the proper functioning of cities so they do not collapse. A slight change or misfiring of one of the constituent parts could cause the entire system to collapse. Urban sustainability is thus the sum total of certain key pillars that would sustain, for example, the growth in population or the networks necessary to keep cities going. What are those key pillars? Some key pillars were identified, but this area needs further scholarship.
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