Prof Karen Harris, the Head of the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies and the Director of the University of Pretoria Archives, was one of two guest speakers in the Online Lecture Series for Tourist Guides held on 14 October 2021.
This was the first of a series of lectures hosted by the National Department of Tourism (NDT). More than a thousand registered tourist guides from across the country attended the morning session.
Prof Harris’s presentation, “Touring with history: the past in the present”, explained the vital role that history plays in the tourism domain. She argued that from the very inception of tourism, history has been inextricably involved in both the tourism product as well as the skills fundamental to the role of the tourist guide. Her presentation reflected on this view from both a legal and practical perspective within a South African context.
Prof Harris highlighted, for example, the landmark Tourism Act of 1993 that prioritised the importance of history in the tourist guides’ skill set. By using the popular tourist site Robben Island, the Jacaranda and Fever trees on the University of Pretoria’s campus and the Hector Pieterson memorial site in Soweto as examples, Prof Harris further explained how history is layered and how all that happens in the past contributes to who we are.
Prof Harris also focused on the symbiotic relationship between historians and tourist guides and the skill set that they share. She concluded by highlighting how tourist guides open up hidden histories, protect national treasures and build bridges between communities.
Prof Harris has pioneered the teaching of Heritage and Cultural Tourism at UP for over two decades at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. She has also been the Principal Investigator on numerous research projects commissioned by the Department of Tourism since 2011. The research teams comprise postgraduate students from the DHHS.
Past projects have focused on amongst others: cross border tour guiding, film tourism, tourist guide legislation, the indigenous story teller and, the current project, “Remodelling the local domestic tourism market in South Africa within a Covid environment”.
As Prof Harris reflected in her presentation on the close relationship between history and tourism, “As we stand in the present we can also look to the past and make the [tourist] experience that more real”.
The lecture series can be viewed below with Prof Harris' presentation at 1:23:20.