UP’s ESI Press launches free book on history of De Aar

Posted on June 23, 2023

The Emerging Scholars Initiative Press (ESI Press), based at the University of Pretoria (UP) Faculty of Humanities, recently published a book on the history of the town De Aar in the Northern Cape.

The book, De Aar: Lines of Architecture in the Making of a South African Town (1902–1977), was written by Dr Giorgio Miescher, Senior Lecturer and Researcher at the Centre for African Studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland’s oldest university. Dr Miescher launched the book in De Aar on Monday 19 June 2023 at the Olive Schreiner House.

The book is published with Afrikaans translations (the language most commonly spoken in De Aar) and is available to read on ESI Press’ website.

Once the second most important railway junction in South Africa, De Aar’s history is unpacked in Dr Miescher’s book, which stems from a larger project on the central role played by South African Railways in the creation of an imagined imperial South African space. He chose to focus exclusively on De Aar in this book because, he says, “The more I learned about the history of De Aar, the more I became convinced that it would be exciting to delve into the history of the town beyond the constraints of my overall project. I wanted to do justice to the rich archival material, but likewise value the many great conversations I had with residents.”

Dr Giorgio Miescher’s (3rd from left) book takes an inclusive approach to the retelling of De Aar’s story by looking at former so-called “non-European” neighbourhoods.

Dr Miescher says South Africa’s small towns are often overlooked or are subject to one-sided retellings of their stories. His book takes an inclusive approach to the retelling of De Aar’s story by looking at former so-called “non-European” neighbourhoods. Using a series of hand-drawn maps, blueprints, archival photographs, and oral accounts, he traces the spatial development of the town.

Through tracing its history, from its earliest beginnings as a railway and military camp to the implementation of the 1950 Group Areas Act, up to 1977, Dr Miescher explores the lasting impact of the railways and apartheid’s segregation and forced removals on the town’s spatial organisation. He provides a concise yet wonderfully engaging 75-year history of this small, far-off, and somewhat forgotten town, and reminds us that its “design and urban landscape, as it was built in the 1960s and 1970s, exists until this day”.

In addition to his lecturing role at the University of Basel’s Centre for African Studies, Dr Miescher is also a research fellow at the University of Namibia. He was awarded the prestigious Marie Curie Fellowship in 2011 for his Empires of the Visual project, and is currently conducting joint research projects with the University of Cape Town and the University of Namibia.

ESI Press

The Emerging Scholars Initiative Press (ESI Press), founded in October 2020, was purpose-built to create a holistic learning environment for younger academics at the University of Pretoria. Anchored within the Faculty of Humanities, the ESI Press produces open access resources while affording graduate students the opportunity to gain real-world experience to balance their academic training.

The ESI Press’s model employs graduates from various programmes taught within the University of Pretoria. The Press gives these students a chance to hone their academic skills by employing them to work as:

  • authors for commissioned research projects (drawn from a variety of disciplines);
  • translators (from the Faculty’s various language departments);
  • copyeditors and proofreaders (training offered as part of the English Department and the Unit for Academic Literacy); and,
  • Publication layout (Publishing Sciences Department) as information design professionals (offered through UP’s award-winning Information Design programme).

ESI Press publishes a range of formats from journal articles to monographs to book length manuscripts.

The publications can be accessed free of charge and users can read several different titles, receive announcements, and access relevant information about each publication.



ESI Press: https://esipress.up.ac.za/

Digital copy of the book: https://esipress.up.ac.za/de-aar/

Enquiries: Please contact Dr Heather Thuynsma at [email protected] or Andrea du Toit at [email protected]

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