Colonialism

This is a collection of papers presented at a 2018 colloquium convened by the well-established Wits History Workshop, the Wits School of Architecture and Planning and the Goethe Institute. Conferences always produce an eclectic and distinctive mix of ideas and discussions. It is a platform to showcase research and produce a paper which will in turn bring further funding for ongoing research. Hence a wide range of heritage themes and buildings are explored by 14 contributors.

 

When I was invited to review this book I had hoped that I would be in for a treat about the history of photography in Southern Africa and that the visual image seized upon joyously by the scholar as evidence of past societies would reveal new sources and insights. I was initially disappointed as there is little here about the history of photography in Southern Africa from its introduction in the 1840s and the technical advances that enabled photographs to record places, events and people.

The title, Civilising Grass - The Art of the Lawn on the South African Highveld, intrigued and immediately raised questions. What is the difference between grass, veld and lawn? Why is there an art in its cultivation? What does a lawn mean? Why do some people spend precious leisure time mowing a lawn? Why do lawns matter and what do they represent? If you read this book you will find some of the answers. This is certainly a book to set you thinking. We all benefit from the author’s scholarship (the bibliography is vast).

Early this year I visited my old high school. It was my first time of being there since I had left the school some nineteen years back. My visit coincided with school holidays, so I had the chance to peer through my former classrooms without disturbing any lessons in progress (for the benefit of context, the school is a Catholic private school situated in the leafy northern suburbs of Johannesburg). 

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