Humanities Faculty celebrates 100 years

Posted on March 05, 2019

In 2019, the Faculty of Humanities is celebrating its official centenary even though subjects in the Humanities were taught from the inception of the University of Pretoria. In fact, the first degree that was ever awarded at UP was a Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Philosophy in 1908 to Ms CG Phillips. Tukkievaria caught up with Professor Karen Harris, Head of the Department of Historical and Heritage Studies and the director of the University of Pretoria’s Archives, and Prof Vasu Reddy, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, to find out more about the centenary.

Can you give us a brief history of the Faculty of Humanities?
KH:  “The Transvaal University College (TUC) started with four professors and 32 students in 1908 and offered courses in Arts and Sciences. The first Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Prof H Reinink, was elected by the Senate on 14 May 1919. The first official meeting of the Faculty of Humanities was on 27 May 1919. The first disciplines taught included English, Dutch, French, Greek, Latin, History, Germanic Philology and Philosophy. In the 1920s Music, African languages, Ethnology and Applied Ethnology, as well as Sociology and Applied Sociology were added; in the 1930s Dutch Cultural History and Afrikaans Philology and by the 1940s Physical Education and Library Science were added. The Faculty of Humanities currently has 21 departments. In 1930, just under half of UP’s students (511) were enrolled in the Faculty of Humanities; in 1949 this figure doubled and in 1958 exceeded 2000. There are currently close on 4400 undergraduate students and nearly 1000 postgraduate students in the Faculty of Humanities.”

Many people might not know that most universities, and what is regarded as scientific knowledge now, started off as questions posed by the humanities in general. In your opinion, what is the single most important contribution that the humanities (as a broad field) makes to society?
VR: “There is no single essence to the contribution. That would not make sense. The humanities play a role in moderating the complexities of our time to open up spaces to stimulate new opportunities that deepen our understanding of local and transnational connectivity; contribute to economic opportunities and community vitality; enhance the quality of human life; give voice where there is silence; inspire more meaningful relationships; and catalyse the building of bridges between peoples. In fact, I would add here that the fostering of creativity, promotion of social justice and the development of a knowledge economy is central.”

What are some of the activities planned for this centenary year?
KH: “We’re planning the commemorative Humanities Centenary Book. There will be a lot happening with UP Campus Tours with a tour themed “A walk back in time – Humanities 100” to celebrate the history of the faculty, as well as a UP Campus Tours board game with an expansion pack called Humanities 100. There will also be discipline-specific seminars and colloquiums in various departments and also a jazz music concert.”

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) upon us, which brings with it the rapid automation of processes, the Internet of Things, and the increase in artificial intelligence capabilities, what role do the humanities play?
VR: “There are qualities which technology and artificial intelligence cannot yet replicate within the world of work. These are quintessentially human values and qualities which add value to particular jobs. I believe that the image of such a world of work depends on the context of rapid technological advancement, but that cannot exclude the joint participation of us humans. Beyond the attraction of social media, automation, artificial intelligence and digital platforms, we are presented with unbounded potential. These technological forces will determine, influence and compel us to adapt and revisit past assumptions. They will urge us – as well as compel us – to rethink our role as human beings (and workers) in a way that may disrupt how we currently think about technological breakthroughs and their relevance (or not) to our future participation in the workforce.
My view is that our teaching, learning and research, whether in humanities, law, health sciences and/or the natural sciences, requires of us to engage these technological megatrends, rather than to resist. The humanities compels us to ask deeper questions than to just simply accept on surface value the prospects of the 4IR. For me, it is the question of not how machines could possibly replace us human beings, but rather how we can collaborate in conjunction with technology to make decisions. Human creativity, innovation, emotional intelligence and persuasion become more valuable as competencies to be nurtured in mutually beneficial ways for a future workforce”.

Tell us a bit about the centenary logo?
KH: “The logo was designed by Kyle Rath from the Department of Visual Arts. It emphasises the different “humanities” within the faculty. It’s about people, it’s about what we do and what we do for other people. It echoes questions like: What makes us human? How do we define human? What makes us matter? The logo is our signature ‘stamp’ for 2019 that says, ‘we have made the past 100 years matter’. The human spirit is shown in the hand-crafted logo juxtaposed against the ‘sterility’ of the precisely manufactured letterforms. The vibrant, lively orange gradient, which is our faculty colour, represents our human energy, our fire, our drive. Again, this is juxtaposed alongside the colder letterforms, which strengthen the symbolism.”

What are some of the things in the immediate future that the Faculty of Humanities can look forward to?
KH: “A major project that we’re looking forward to this year is the opening of the Javett Art Centre at UP, which will highlight the humanities in the form of galleries, museums, exhibitions, and will give our students a platform to showcase their talent as well”.
VR: “There are number of exciting events organised by the Faculty, Departments and Centres throughout 2019 and 2020. The opening of the Javett Art Centre at UP and the prospects for transdisciplinary engagements at Future Africa are just some of the highlights. Watch this space!”

- Author Shakira Hoosain

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