Vahed’s lecture titled On the margins: Writing History at a Time of Profound Political Change was an overview of the main themes of his work over the past three decades, both its empirical content as well as theoretical and methodological endeavours.
His writings, he stated, have taken place against the backdrop of major political changes in South Africa, which were reflected in his lecture through an excursion into his own experiences at universities in South Africa and abroad, both as a as student and an academic. ‘Historians often stand aside or above the topics they research. But as I considered the corpus of my work, and the scholars that influenced me, I realised that this cannot be avoided and so the lecture should be read, to paraphrase C. Wright Mills, as the warp and weft of my own history, against the backdrop of the rapidly changing political landscape in South Africa,’ he said.
In the telling of this history, he reflected on his writings on Indian South Africans, Islam in South Africa and the politics of sport, while grappling with methodological and theoretical innovations. ‘Some have argued that this kind of history writing remains on the margins; on the contrary, I believe that this approach provides more valuable insight into a society going through major political transitions such as South Africa,’ said Vahed.
Hiralal discussed the topic From the Margin to the Mainstream: Women and Gender in South African History in which she provided a critical assessment of debates within and about gender history in South Africa.
‘Women’s history, now transforming into gender history, is notably broadening and enriching historical studies. Over the past two decades there has been a variety of approaches within the academy to the study and significance of women and gender histories. Scholarship emerged that was radical in its feminist historiographical critiques seeking to `disrupt’ and `unsettle’ traditional narratives,’ she said.
However, Hiralal believes that there are still many aspects of South African history that require a deeper analysis of gendered voices.
‘Women and gender marginalia can unearth powerful and compelling narratives of yesterday’s society and culture. Holistic history, as a route to knowledge production, must incorporate a pluralistic and critical history of gender. Overall, it charts a way forward for subaltern histories of marginalized and oppressed peoples into the disciplinary mainstream within an African perspective,’ said Hiralal.