What is Visual History & Theory?

Visual History & Theory is a research platform at the University of the Western Cape that promotes a critical engagement with the image in relation to other forms of knowledge production, creativity and contest in Africa and elsewhere. The ‘visual turn’ too often associates visual culture with the invention of technical media, which tends to put Africa at the limit of modernity. It has been our task to rethink hegemonic histories and theories of vision from this limit, opening the way to re-theorise the humanities more globally. Visual History therefore explores inter-disciplinary approaches to images as a way of rethinking history, society, and culture.

Graduates of the UWC Visual History programme are making a strong impact on the growing field of global photography studies, such as the 2019 edited volume Ambivalent. Photography and Visibility in African History (https://www.ohioswallow.com/book/Ambivalent). We continue to produce original work that:

  • Brings to light the rich and vibrant photographic archives in Africa so as to examine historical and contemporary struggles occurring at the level of the visual  
  • Articulates new concepts and frameworks that rethink the dominant histories of vision from a strong research site in the south 
  • Develops new ways of writing about images 
  • Takes seriously the place of ‘the public’ in wider interdisciplinary debates, examining civil engagement through institutions (such as the museums and galleries) as well as practices around popular arts and media 
  • Examines the postcolonial African digital turn with its popular and dissident undertones (especially in social media) that express yet another ambivalent wave of the ‘democratization of the image’
  • Challenges assumptions about the African continent as a site of raw archives and belated or derivative modernities. 

Visual History and Theory considers multiple histories, sciences, and forms of knowledge over time in order to promote the type of critical skills needed to grasp the cultural and political magnitude of dramatically increasing media literacies that are already shaping our future.  

Visual History Workshops

The workshops aim to promote and sustain a conversation amongst the growing community of trans-generational scholars engaged in new research in visual

Postgraduate bursaries and postdoctoral fellowships in Visual History & Theory

The Visual History research platform is convened by the DSI/NRF SARChI Chair in Visual History & Theory (UID 98911) and hosts a number of postgraduate student bursaries and postdoctoral fellowships.

Postgraduate Module In Visual History, 2023 (HIS 735/835)

The course offers students the opportunity to become skilled in both the historical and cultural analysis of images, and their production. The focus

Related News

Other lives of the image

Call for papers: International Workshop in Visual History & Theory

Other Lives of the Image: International Workshop in Visual History and Theory

From 4 – 6 October, the International Workshop in Visual History and Theory will convene around the theme Other Lives of the Image.

Nsima Udo Wins Africa Thesis Award

Nsima Udo, CHR Doctoral Fellow with the SARChI Chair in Visual History and Theory wins prestigious Africa Thesis Award from the African Studies Centre of the University of Leiden in The Netherlands.

Ambivalent. Photography and Visibility in African History Book Launch

Edited by Patricia Hayes and Gary Minkley
Published by Ohio University Press, 2019

SARChI Chair in Visual History & Theory Review

The SARChI Chair in Visual History & Theory underwent its first-phase review in 2020 and has been awarded a second phase of funding for 2021-5 by the National Research Foundation (NRF).


The African Critical Inquiry Programme invites proposals from scholars and/or practitioners in public cultural institutions in South Africa to organise a workshop to take place in 2022.

A Conversation with Patricia Hayes

Professor Patricia Hayes of the CHR will be in conversation with Professor Tamar Garb of UCL about Ambivalent: Photography and Visibility in African History

NRF Call: Postgraduate Student Funding for 2022

The CHR is excited to share the DSI and NRF call for new applications for Postgraduate Student Funding in 2022.

Doctoral Fellowships (2022-5): New Archival Visions

We are pleased to share that the University of the Western Cape is offering four doctoral fellowships based at the Centre for Humanities Research to commence in 2022.

African Critical Inquiry Program Announces 2022 Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards

The CHR warmly congratulates recipients of the 2022 Ivan Karp Doctoral Research Awards, namely Vanessa Chen, Min’enhle Ncube and Suzana Sousa.