About Laura J. MITCHELL

I teach African history, world history, and the Humanities Core Course at UC Irvine. My research explores relationships among societies and between humans and the natural world in Southern Africa--mostly in the eighteenth century.

Race relations

The troubled relationship of black and white South Africans cannot be fully understood by focusing on what tore them apart and ignoring what held them together. The history of a marriage, even an unhappy one, is inscribed in the wedding banns as well as the divorce notice.

~Charles van Onselen, The Seed is Mine, p. 4

The Role of Indiviudals in History

We’ve spent some time reading and discussing the actions of Nelson Mandela and Ruth First. As you reflect on the recent reading assignments and anticipate the film tomorrow, I invite you to think about questions I’ve been posing in class:

  • Who is authorized to tell stories and make meaning about the past?
  • What are the limits of legitimate opposition to a government?
  • What difference did race and gender make in the treatment of South Africans detained by the police?

Think also about the “critical questions” that shape the course outline, in particular:

What role do individuals play in shaping broad historical processes? Do individual actions influence events, or do events provide the parameters for individual lives? Does your answer to this question change if you consider the biographies of prominent people compared to ordinary people?

Thinking about week 3

Thanks for your comments on Amandla! and your specific questions (I’ve posted replies to those–but they’re not showing up on the site. Hope to have that fixed soon.)

In today’s class (Tuesday) we will discuss:

  • Perceptions and portrayals of Mandela’s role in the ANC & the Defiance Campaign
  • The role of music in the struggle
  • The ANC’s relationship with other organizations, including organized labor and the Communist Party
  • Gender roles and family relationships

Class will conclude with a quick preview of what’s coming next

PLEASE NOTE: I’ve adjusted the reading for week 4–dropping one of the chapters. I want to slow down and have more discussion, and so will skip the comparison I had planned. I will still post the chapter of Van Onselen’s The Seed is Mine, for those of you who are interested.

Week 2 Discussion Questions

Who is authorized to tell stories and make meaning about the past?

How important are economic factors in the major turning points of SA history?

What are the limits of legitimate opposition to a government?

What is the difference between opposition and rebellion/revolution?

What are the challenges of achieving revolutionary change by democratic means?

What roles did music play in the anti-Apartheid struggle?

Exile was an alternative to prison for some freedom fighters, but it was not without costs. What does the film Amandla! tell you about how exile was experienced by specific individuals?

Is describing the anti-Apartheid struggle as a civil war too strong a statement?

Reading for historical background

The first reading assignment, which you should complete before class on Thursday, is intended to give you background and context. There are  three different texts: the introduction and historical background in Clark & Worger; the preface from Lodge about why Mandela’s early life matters; then a comic book version of Mandela’s early life. Don’t dismiss the visuals; there’s lots of information in the graphic–more like a graphic novel than a kid’s comic book. It’s an accessible introduction to Mandela’s childhood and education.

Read C&W for basic chronological overview. Don’t obsess about details yet. We’ll take two different approaches to that history in lecture on Thursday.

Think about Mandela’s early life in terms of the differences between rural and urban life, between the economy and social expectations of in an African kingdom compared to what you know about life in industrial cities in the 1930s. Consider also the discipline involved in life at the Regent’s court in Transkei compared to the discipline required of ANC members.

What’s unique about South African history?

In anticipation of our first class meeting, I’m posing some questions to get you thinking about the next ten weeks.

Rock Art, Cedarberg Region, Western Cape

Rock Art, Cedarberg Region, Western Cape

  • What is history?
  • When does “history” start? Is that answer different in South Africa compared to the US?
  • What is gender?
  • What do you already know about South Africa? (It’s fine if your answer is “not much.”)
  • What opinions do you have about Apartheid?
South African family, turn of the 20th century

South African family, turn of the 20th century

First Class Meeting on Tuesday

The first class meeting of History 134d/Women’s Studies 171 is on Tuesday, April 3.

The class meets in Humanities Hall 143. There is no reading for the first class, but please bring Clark & Worger, South Africa : the Rise and Fall of Apartheid, (abbreviated throughout the course materials as C&W) to class with you.

The course outline, assignments, and requirements are all available for you to look over.
Much of the reading for this class will be provided to you as pdfs–linked from the course outline. Please check your UCI email for a message that will contain a username and password to access the readings.

Remember to check this site regularly for discussion questions, paper prompts, and other information relevant to the course.

We look forward to seeing you in class on Tuesday.

~ Laura Mitchell and Dan McClure