Tuesday, April 8, 2008

No more presentations for one week!

Our presentation went off quite well. I opened up with the lovely theoretical groundwork you all read about in my handout, the political and social circumstances of the 1930s and '40s which were the backdrop for Bantu Education, and a nice comment on the erroneous tendency to over-simplify history and see Bantu Education as a fairly simple, "whites wanted to suppress blacks" sort of story. My professor was quite pleased with my cautionary tone and stopped me to make sure no one had missed the point. At Fox, Paul Otto used to talk about historians as either "lumpers or splitters," largely depending on their personality and particular political and ideological persuasions. I tend to be a splitter by nature, prone to see differences and subtleties. My teacher is also a splitter, so we get along quite well in that case and can have a good rousing discussion about all the fine points of the various ideological factors present and influencing a person's decision. It's splendid history! I finished up my part, and was only told to talk slower 2 times, and then my partner, ES, did a very nice job of illustrating how Bantu education was actually implemented, the opposition, the financial problems that emerged, and so forth.

I really enjoy ES. She isn't a historian, but actually works with the Tropical Institute and her specialty areas are HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis. She worked in Afghanistan from 1996-2001, and she is wonderful to talk to. We know each other from church, besides this class. She's from the Netherlands, and grew up in the Dutch Reformed Church, which as you may or may not know was tightly linked to Apartheid in South Africa. For her, reading this history is particularly personal because of that. We had a long chat over lunch about how we approach our work as Christians--her working with HIV/AIDS, studying the social stigma attached and whether that influences people to not seek treatment, thinking about how it affects the churches in Africa, and how our churches elsewhere in the world should respond to the needs.

And of course, good history includes looking very closely at the beliefs and circumstances that moved people to action as well as the results of those actions. In African history, the churches and missionaries played a prominent role almost everywhere, both for good and bad. For any historian, the challenge is to portray historical people with a fair, critical eye--trying to account for their varied influences and neither romanticizing nor blackening them in the process. But for Christian historians, looking at Christians in history, I think there's an added dimension too. We think about what the past says about loving our neighbors. We think about the fact that those people tried to be faithful. They wrestled with ideas and circumstances, and for the most part were making decisions they believed to be best. But how limited our vision is as we go about our lives! If they had had any idea how history would criticize them, I venture to guess they would have done things different. So Christian historians have greater than average reason to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.


  1. It came up at lunch today, so I thought I'd see if you had any answers to the following questions:
    - Why did so many dictators arise out of the colonial ashes?
    - Why were most African countries unable or unwilling to make good use of colonial infrastructure?
    - Do you detect presuppositions in my questions that need correction?

  2. No, those are good questions. I've been thinking about it. I don't know a lot about the decolonization period, in fact, but I have some thoughts. I'll write them in a main post soon.