Course Description

History 134D | Women’s Studies 171 | South African History | Spring 2012
Stories of Struggle: Life Histories of Apartheid-era South Africa

Tu/Th 2- 3:20 | HH 143

Prominent anti-Apartheid activists have captured the world’s attention since the 1950s. The experiences of leaders like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu tell an important part of South Africa’s history in the twentieth century, but not all of it.  The interplay of race, ethnic identity, gender, and social class greatly complicated the lived reality of Apartheid and shaped the range of resistance to it. This class will explore the causes and diverse consequences of Apartheid through careful attention to the life stories of many individuals, including political leaders, prominent activists and artists, and ordinary people.
Lectures will introduce students to the politics, economy and culture of Apartheid-era South Africa (1948-1994). We will examine the structure of Apartheid’s race-based legislation.  Readings and films will provide evidence of the many ways people resisted Apartheid’s restrictions. We will access the lived experience of individuals through several genres: biography, autobiography, life-history, and memoir recounted in text and film.

Critical Questions
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?
What are the strengths and limitations of presenting large-scale historical processes (such as racism, women’s rights, state formation and governance, global capital circulation, or multi-national diplomatic negotiations) through the lens of individual lives?
What features differentiate biography, autobiography, life history and memoir? What kinds of stories is each genre best at telling? What perspectives can each genre tend to obscure?
How did aspects of individual identity—particularly race, class, and gender—shape an individual’s experience? What differences emerge in the telling of famous people’s life stories compared to “ordinary people”? How did the stories of “ordinary people” come to light?

Learning Objectives
By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe political, economic and social conditions in Apartheid-era South Africa and explain why those conditions were different for different racial groups [chronology; argumentation; use of evidence]
  • Identify major turning points during the Apartheid era, and explain the reasons for those changes [causation; change and continuity over time; periodization]
  • Differentiate between individual experiences and general historical patterns of change and continuity [agency & structure, change and continuity over time; argumentation]
  • Evaluate the importance of race, class, gender, and generation [agency & structure; causation; argumentation]
  • Demonstrate improved writing ability evaluated in terms of clearly articulated thesis statement, coherent paragraph structure, and correct grammar*

*Grammar is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.

Specific questions about Apartheid-Era South Africa
How did the government justify Apartheid?

  • What specific economic, political and social factors led to the declaration of the first Apartheid legislation in 1948?
  • What global political and economic factors influenced international reaction to Apartheid?

What was the cost of opposing Apartheid regulations?

  • How did that change, and when?
  • How did the consequences of anti-Apartheid activities affect different population groups?

Who tells the story:

  • of the efforts to impose and maintain Apartheid?
  • of the fear among whites that garnered support for Apartheid?
  • of the experiences of those who opposed it, and worked to end it?

How is the story affected by who tells it?

·       Weekly reading
·       5 x reading response + discussion questions (2 page each/500 words)

Final Paper: response to/evaluation of  full-length book | 10 pages (2,500 words)
Most of the reading for the class will be excerpts/chapters from longer books. For the final, I ask you to choose one of the books from which we’ve read a section to read in its entirety.