South Africa: on the importance of history education post colonialism

South Africa: on the importance of history education post colonialism

Tuesday, 21 February 2023 - 5:00pm
Pavilion Room, St Antony's College
Dr Natasha Robinson, University of Bristol
Dr David Johnson and Dr Fiona Gatty
Education, Purpose and Human Flourishing in Uncertain Times

This seminar is part of the Education, Purpose and Human Flourishing in Uncertain Times research programme.

Theme 3: History and Politics

This series explores how we might better understand the ‘idea’ or indeed the ideal of flourishing, and the importance of education as a pathway to it. Previously, we first examined a variety of important concepts concerning personhood and society as it relates to flourishing, such as character and virtue, and asked whether flourishing lies in the development of these. In the second seminar series, we turned our attention to other notions interdependently related to flourishing, specifically the notions of culture and context. We asked whether and how the development of mind and socio-emotional qualities such as character, virtue, open-mindedness, resilience, and actualisation are differently, but no less meaningfully, shaped by history and culture across world contexts. In this third series, we are turning to the impact of history and politics on pathways and understandings of human flourishing. We ask to what extent we should consider enabling and disabling historical factors in national and international contexts, and point towards examples of collective endeavour and struggle in response to adversity.

These seminars are open to the public and can be joined in person, or virtually on the following MS Teams link: Click here to join the meeting.

Recordings of past seminars can be found at this link.


The debate over what to teach students about racially violent history has made headlines in recent years. Various campaign groups (Rhodes Must Fall, Black Lives Matter, Fill In The Blanks, the 1619 Project) have advocated for decolonised and ‘inclusive’ history curriculum, which tells the stories of racially minoritised populations. At the heart of this debate is a concern for the ways in which history education supports or hinders human flourishing; our sense of identity, continuity, belonging, and community.

In this seminar, Dr Robinson will explore the potential of history education for contributing to human flourishing, particularly in societies that have experienced racialised violence. She will draw on data from a twelve-month ethnographic study of four history classrooms in Cape Town, South Africa. Through the experiences of a group of 14-year-olds, she will offer portraits of what happens when history education works well, and what happens when it doesn’t.


Natasha is an anthropologist of education, researching how young people think about the legacies of conflict and colonialism. She has a keen interest in research methodology, particularly ethnography and life history interviews and has worked in both research and programme design in diverse contexts, including the UK, South Africa, Nigeria, India, Myanmar, Denmark, the USA, China, and Sierra Leone. Her experience has focused on social cohesion, teacher education, curriculum development, higher education, academic publishing, and the experiences of young people. She obtained her PhD in Education from the University of Oxford and she is now a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Bristol.