By Ken Smith
E.H. Carr said: “Before you study the history, study the historian.” Written history often tells us more about the historian’s own times than it does of the times about which he is writing. The historians and the way in which each generation has rewritten history in the light of its own preoccupations is the subject of The Changing Past. This is the first book-length survey in English that covers all the main trends in South African historiography. Starting with the first documents and histories, it goes on to trace the 19th century. British and settler “schools,” Afrikaans historiography from its pre-academic 19th century phase to the present, and the liberal historians who struck out in a new direction from the 1920s. The book highlights the break with the past that historians of the “new radical school” have made in the last 15 years, and surveys the position of historical writing to the present.
The canvas is delineated in bold strokes that sketch in the main outlines rather than seek an exhaustive treatment of all existing literature. This, together with a conscious effort to minimize theoretical discussion, makes it a highly readable text.
Ken Smith is a professor of History at the University of South Africa. He has written on the Pedi and Graaff-Reinet, contributed to European and African history textbooks, and published a biography of Alfred Aylward. He also writes novels under two pseudonyms and has published one children’s novel under his own name.
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