The humanities, as a discourse that places the university in direct relation to society, assumes a transnational orientation, not least because of the ways in which its emergence brushes up against concerns of nationalism, troubling the securities of what we assume to be common sense about the human condition. To this end, the humanities function as a self-critical constellation of knowledge formations that always also open onto a future that has not yet been anticipated. In the interval between past and a future that is not yet, the humanities offer us different conceptions of the world we live in, and which we might potentially inhabit. With this broad understanding, the CHR’s particular contribution to elaborating a concept of the post-apartheid that is more than a reference to the experience of apartheid in South Africa brings it into conversation and dialogue with a range of academic and art projects around the world. A significant aspect of this discussion and dialogue has centred on our approach to the larger global debate on the future of the humanities, and what specifically in our view is a need to get beyond the limits of the perennial talk about the crisis of the humanities. Ours is an effort to ascribe to the humanities a potential with which it has not adequately reckoned and that is the very condition for unrelenting questioning. It is also to learn from the larger preoccupations of humanities scholars and arts practitioners in the world. To this end, the CHR hosts a cohort of leading local and international doctoral and post-doctoral fellows, with a significant proportion drawn from South Africa and elsewhere on the African continent, and a growing list of international visiting scholars eager to engage the CHR on its perspectives on the humanities.

The CHR is committed to reconstituting the study of the humanities in Africa through research partnerships that enhance our understanding of the human condition in an age of rapid technological change. The focus of such collaborations rests upon new approaches to pedagogy in the humanities that link university-based research with the visual and performing arts. With the support of sixteen international and five national institutions, the CHR aims to enhance scholarly exchange around its three main research platforms: Aesthetics and Politics, Migrating Violence, and the Becoming Technical of the Human. A major aspect of this exchange is the opportunity it affords the CHR to explore and exchange ideas about curriculum development.

The CHR is a member of the international Consortium of Humanities Centres and Institutes (CHCI).

National Partnerships

The SARChI Chair in Social Change is the first Research Chair awarded to the University of Fort Hare and marks a significant milestone and exciting new development for innovative research. The research focus of the Chair in Social Change is located around exploring the historical and contemporary dimensions and dynamics of social change in the Eastern Cape and more broadly in South Africa and Africa. In relation to the research areas of social change, this entails attempting to explore the ways that ‘the social’ itself no longer conjures a common set of assumptions about society, culture, representation, or the methods by which we write and produce a history, or an understanding. Rather, it is a category and construct that needs to be explored, engaged, and researched. As such, the Chair has initiated a range of research programmes which cohere around the theme of Social Acts. The aim is to connect together these research engagements with the changing ways that the social arena is constituted and re-constituted in post-apartheid South Africa. This involves new ways of thinking about the subject and the itineraries, performativities, discourses and acts, actions, agencies, and actors that frame and are re-framed by changing circumstances.

Other Universals, is a supra-national project supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, over a five year period. The project creates a consortium of scholars across a number of universities, in South Africa (UWC, UCT, and Witwatersrand), East Africa (Makerere University), the Middle East ( American University of Beirut), Caribbean (University of West Indies: Cave Hill)and the West Africa University of Ghana-Legon. Whilst it brings together a range of institutions, at is core is the idea of creating a forum for a small number of scholars working at these universities and across these regions, to be in conversation around a common set of intellectual-political preoccupations. The idea is to create research hubs, who will meet annually, in either a colloquium or a small summer school; additionally, there is support for graduate student fellowships at the PhD level at the participating universities. The CHR hosts the consortium, which is steered by Prof Suren Pillay in conjunction with a steering committee comprised of the lead researcher for each participating hub. For further details please refer to our page dedicated to the Other Universals project, here:

The CHR is a partner in the Andrew W Mellon Foundation supported project Re-Centring AfroAsia, which is a supra-institutional, multi-pronged research, mapping, and archiving project and based at the University of Cape Town. This project aims to not only revolutionise Humanities research in South Africa but also create an AfroAsian community of scholarship.

Net vir Pret aims to work with children and youth from deprived communities in the Overberg (Barrydale/Swellendam Municipal Area), including those on the farms. We aim to encourage self-esteem, self-development, confidence, and a sense of responsibility among these children by providing activities which help to break the cycle of poverty, domestic violence and alcoholism/drug misuse within the family and community. We believe that every child has a right to a happy developmental childhood. By offering after-school, weekend and vacation activities, we aim to keep our children and youth off the street and out of danger and also to offer opportunities for them to develop individual skills and talents and to help them prepare for life after school

The NIHSS is a funder, so should be moved to that section on the website.

International Partnerships

The Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Global Change (ICGC) houses the University of Minnesota’s graduate education and faculty research collaboration with the University of the Western Cape (UWC), South Africa. The initiative involves graduate student and faculty exchanges, co-taught courses between the campuses using web and ITV technologies, and has the goal of further developing other networks among institutions in the global south. The partnership is supported in part by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the partner universities.

ICGC and the CHR at UWC formalised a partnership in graduate education and faculty research through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), put in place during a visit to UWC by former Senior Vice President, Robert Jones, and ICGC Director, Karen Brown. Through the partnership between ICGC and the CHR at UWC, our collaborative graduate education and faculty research initiative offers faculty and student exchanges; graduate student fellowships; and joint research projects, workshops, conferences and courses. Current activities include an ongoing faculty and doctoral fellow exchange program with faculty and students from each institution spending time conducting research and engaging with students and faculty on the partner campus for periods of two to six months

The “Aesthetic Education: A South-North Dialogue,” a collaboration between the Jackman Humanities Institute (JHI) at the University of Toronto and the Centre for Humanities Research (CHR) at the University of the Western Cape generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, began in April of 2016.  The wager of the collaboration was that the mutual engagement of scholars from the two institutions would open new possibilities for research into aesthetic education, that is, into the ways that artistic endeavours can add to knowledge and that Humanities scholars can learn from artistic endeavours. The collaboration is divided into five sections which are in no sense discreet and which share an inquiry into concepts and questions which connect these in their concern with an ‘Aesthetic Education’. The five sections are ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada and South Africa’, ‘Museums and Public History’, ‘Puppetry’, ‘Literature and Decolonization’, ‘Movement, Image, Sound’. Faculty and fellows between the two institutions, located within these sections, share their research at workshops led by questions from the five sections; participants from both institutions also publish together and a number of participants have benefitted from writing and teaching exchanges. The Centre for Humanities Research and The Jackman Humanities Institute continue to explore new ways of collaborating and producing new knowledge, still driven by a concern with the idea of an Aesthetic Education.

Jointly run by Emory University and the CHR at UWC, the African Critical Inquiry Programme (ACIP) seeks to advance inquiry and debate about the roles of public cultural domains and institutions in shaping identities and society in South Africa after colonialism and apartheid.

The program has two components: The first, an annual ACIP workshop and lecture in Cape Town, will provide interdisciplinary, cross-institutional contexts to address issues central to such debate and to develop comparative, critical frameworks that can yield fresh insights, innovative and informed practice, and lively interchange for those working in, and on, institutions of public culture in Africa. The second component, doctoral research awards, will foster work by the next generation of scholar-practitioners. In these ways, ACIP will strengthen public scholarship and institutions of public culture in South Africa and enhance our understanding of these vital sites of cultural production and social action.  

ACIP is supported by contributions from the Ivan Karp and Corinne Kratz Fund. The Fund was created to honour the late National Endowment for the Humanities Professor, Ivan Karp, whose work was monumental in the fields of anthropology, museum studies, African studies, social theory, and public scholarship.

The Fund will help continue his collaborative work with universities, museums and other cultural institutions in Cape Town, South Africa, through activities such as lectures, programs and student research support.

The CHR is a partner in the Andrew W Mellon Foundation supported project Re-Centring AfroAsia, which is a supra-institutional, multi-pronged research, mapping, and archiving project and based at the University of Cape Town. This project aims to not only revolutionise Humanities research in South Africa but also create an AfroAsian community of scholarship.


The Global Humanities Institute on the Challenges of Translation is hosted by the Centre of Studies on Philosophy, Humanities, and the Arts at the University of Chile in Santiago, in collaboration with Humanities Commons (UCI Commons, University of California Irvine), Oxford Comparative Criticism and Translation at the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, and the CHR at UWC. The Institute aims to “establish an academic exchange articulated on the basis of a multidimensional concept of translation with poetic and theoretic outputs. It will privilege an interdisciplinary approach articulating philosophical, literary and artistic perspectives in order not just to contribute to the state of the art of translation studies, but also to extend the model of translation to heuristically explore and rethink enduring questions in the realms of epistemology (the constitution and passage of meaning), ethics (responsibility, violence, hospitality), history (temporal economy, memory), and politics (status of the subject, foundation of the community).” The pre-institute planning meeting, which took place at Oxford University in May 2018, was attended by Research Manager in the CHR, Maurits van Bever Donker, one of the CHR’s faculty involved in the project. The Global Humanities Institute took place in July 2019 and was attended by Heidi Grunebaum, Premesh Lalu and Maurits van Bever Donker. The partners are in ongoing discussions around future projects, including publications stemming from the GHI meeting in Santiago.

The CHR is committed to working collaboratively with the Social Sciences and Humanities Laboratory (LAB) at the Catholic University of Angola. Founded in March 2017, and coordinated by Catarina Antunes Gomes and Cesaltina Abreu, the Lab aims at, among other things, fostering a next generation of scholars, strengthening research networks across the African continent, and reflecting critically on the future of Humanities and Social Science research and pedagogy—on, for example, the Eurocentrism of its inherited epistemologies, and the capture of their concepts of freedom in both national liberation struggles and neoliberal ideologies. In September  2018, Ross Truscott and Maurits van Bever Donker travelled to Luanda to participate in the conference, “Public Humanities: Thinking Freedom in the African University,” organised by the Social Sciences and Humanities Lab, co-funded by the Catholic University of Angola and Codesria. The conference attracted participants—scholars, activists, and artists—from across the continent and, indeed, the world to think about what the organisers termed “emancipatory education.” A collection of essays from the “Public Humanities” conference, edited by Catarina Gomes, Conceição Neto and Cesaltina Abreu, has been submitted to Codesria and is currently undergoing peer review. Although unrelated to the conference, the journal co-hosted by the Centre for Humanities Research, Kronos: Southern Africa Histories published a special issue in 2019 on “Angola: Nationalist Narratives and Alternative Histories” (edited by Jeremy Ball and Claudia Gastrow).

The CHR participates in an international research project titled, “Mnemonic Solidarities: Colonialism, War and Genocide in the Global Memory Space.” This project is orientated around the question of Mnemonic Solidarity, which seeks through transdisciplinary engagement with scholars from South Korea, Japan, South Africa, Poland, Taiwan, Germany, Italy, France, the UK and the USA, to think through divergent memories and the spaces entangled with them. From 31 May – 2 July 2018, the first conference of this joint research project was hosted by the Critical Global Studies Institute at Sogang University in Seoul, South Korea. CHR Early Career Fellows, Lauren van der Rede and Aidan Erasmus attended the conference and presented papers. It was the first of several planned meetings, workshops, and conferences on the research question. As part of the conference, a meeting pertaining to the drafting of a manifesto for the project took place on the 2nd of July 2018. Each presenter was encouraged to contribute toward the development of the manifesto, as a move toward consolidating the project, which will unfold over the next seven years. Both Erasmus and van der Rede have submitted their revised papers for publication with a journal special issue emerging from the first meeting.