International expert on Cape slavery delivers guest lecture at UP

Posted on October 24, 2018

Prof Robert Ross, Emeritus Professor at the Institute for History at the Netherlands’ Leiden University, presented a guest lecture to undergraduate students in the University of Pretoria’s Department of Historical and Heritage Studies recently. Prof Ross is a highly acclaimed academic whose books on South African history are widely used by students. These books include the prescribed undergraduate books on Cape slavery, Cape of Torments and the Concise History of South Africa.

“Prof Robert Ross is one of the leading historians on early Cape history, and is renowned for the meticulousness of his archival research and the expressive clarity of his prose,” says Prof Karen Harris, head of UP’s Department of Historical and Heritage Studies.

Prof Ross spoke briefly about the horrors of slavery and the extremity of the treatment and punishment of slaves. He described in detail how slaves were punished by being impaled or broken on a wheel. He also spoke of the position of female slaves, who had no rights over their own bodies, a system that led to many of them being sexually abused by their ‘masters’.

Prof Ross explained that Cape colonial court records were his primary source in giving voice to the Cape’s enslaved people. According to Prof Harris, this is one of the many ways in which historical researchers read against the grain and use colonial records to decolonise the rhetoric and representation of the past. History, she claims, is a key discipline in decolonising the past and giving voice to the silenced or marginalised. Students asked questions about the legal system and the punishments meted out to enslaved people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and how these impacted in the long term on class and race relations in South Africa. Some students were fortunate enough to have Prof Ross autograph their prescribed texts.

- Author Shakira Hoosain

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