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Charles van Onselen holds a B.Sc. and U.E.D. from Rhodes University, a B.A. Hons. (Wits), a D.Phil. from Oxford University and a D.Lit.(Honoris Causa) from Rhodes University. He is the author of articles in leading international journals devoted to historical studies including the American Historical Review, Annales, The Historical Journal and Past and Present, History Workshop Journal and the Law and History Review.
Book authored by him include Chibaro: African Mine Labour in Southern Rhodesia 1900-1933 (London 1976); New Babylon and New Nineveh: Studies in the Social and Economic History of the Witwatersrand, 1886-1914 (London and New York City 1982, reprinted, Johannesburg 2001)) and The Seed is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, A South African Sharecropper, 1894-1985 (London, Johannesburg and New York 1996). The Small Matter of a Horse: The Life of ‘Nongoloza’ Mathebula, 1867-1948 (first published in Johannesburg 1984 and republished in Pretoria 2008) and The Fox and the Flies; The World of Joseph Silver, Racketeer and Psychopath (London, Johannesburg and New York, 2007). His most recent work is Masked Raiders: Irish Banditry in Southern Africa 1880-1899 (Cape Town, 2010).
He has been the recipient of the Trevor Reese Memorial Prize for Commonwealth and Imperial History (1984) as well as the Sunday Times (Johannesburg) Alan Paton prize for non-fiction (1997) and the Herskovitz Prize of the African Studies Association of America (1997). The Fox and the Flies was short listed for the Alan Paton Prize (2008) and the Bill Venter Literary Award (2010).
In 2002 and 2009 he was accorded an ‘A’ rating as a social scientist by the National Research Foundation of South Africa. This rating was reconfirmed in 2009. He has also been a Visiting Fellow at Yale University (1978), Smuts Visiting Fellow, Churchill College Cambridge (1989), Visiting Professor at the Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris (1991), at Magdalen College, Oxford (2005); and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (2007). In 1998 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of South Africa and, in 2012, invited to be the inaugural Oppenheimer Fellow in the W.E.B Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Studies at Harvard University.
Charles van Onselen has been a Research Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Pretoria since 1999.
Professor van Onselen is currently examining ways in which Irish and other working class males - shaped in Manchester at the height of the Industrial Revolution, in the mid-19th century – came to extend their criminal networks into the Indian Ocean basin in the 1880s and 1890s. As marginalized adult men, these Mancunians pursued the unfolding mining frontiers of Australasia and southern Africa, assuming some of the characteristics attributed to ‘social bandits’. He hopes to illustrate some of the underlying social dynamics linking the northern and southern industrial revolutions by way of an illustrative biography.