Three brand new faculty research themes for Humanities

11 March 2015 by Ansa Heyl

The Faculty of Humanities has launched three exciting new cross-disciplinary faculty research themes (FRTs) through which they hope to enhance research capacity and productivity in the Faculty, while contributing to the strengthening of the humanities as a discipline in South Africa.

The newly launched research themes are designed to support multi-disciplinary research in the Faculty and to create an enabling and stimulating environment for postgraduate students.  The three new FRTs are, The Child and the Story, Access to Care, and Ceramics and Related Collections.

The Child and the Story research theme is intended to encourage more wide ranging academic studies of the interaction that children have with stories. Research conducted under the auspices of this theme will focus not only on the acquisition of improved fluency in reading, but also on larger issues such as what children are reading; what languages they read in and what ideas are being communicated in their chosen stories. The theme also aims to investigate how oral traditions, such as nursery rhymes or traditional children’s songs, feed into or are excluded from literary culture; how the narrative can address trauma or play a role in how individuals in society differentiate themselves from one another; and how young readers or listeners respond to, reject or appropriate the narratives transmitted to them. The project leader for this research theme is Professor Molly Brown, Head of the Department of English. Professor Helen Yitah, who is Prof Brown’s counterpart at the University of Ghana, will work closely with Prof Brown to achieve the ambitious goals of this novel research theme.

Professor De Wet Swanepoel of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology will head up the second research theme – Access to Care. This FRT aims to address a whole range of areas in which numerous disciplines intersect. The nature of the subjects that will be investigated in the course of the newly established FRT’s activities lends itself perfectly to interdisciplinary research since it has natural links with other faculties, such as Law, Health Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology. The issues that will be investigated relate to concepts such as equitable, sustainable and just access to health, social, psychosocial and community care. Research will focus especially on the access that the most vulnerable members of society have to these services that many of us take for granted. Prof Cas Smith from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands is a distinguished scholar who will collaborate on this research theme.

The third new research theme – Ceramics and Related Collections – relates to the University’s ceramic collection, which is recognised as one of the largest of its kind in South Africa. Many of the artefacts that form part of the collection were excavated in the Kruger National Park and Mapungubwe, a World Heritage site. The theme will be headed by Professor Innocent Pikirayi, who is the Head of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at UP. Prof Pikirayi hopes to rebuild the history and gain a better understanding of the peoples of southern Africa by analising elements of UP’s extensive pottery collection in a new state-of-the-art, specialist ceramics laboratory at the University. Prof Pikirayi will also engage with modern potters in southern Africa to gain a better understanding of how ceramic objects were manufactured and used in years gone by. Professor Anders Lindahl, a professor of Laboratory and Experimental Archaelogy from Lund University, Sweden is collaborating on the project.

These new research themes in the Faculty of Humanities present a clear opportunity for research innovation, invigoration and collaboration at the University – not only within and across disciplines, but also with local and international partners.