South African Digital History

South African History in a Digital AgeThis semester I’m teaching South African History in a Digital Age.

This newly created hybrid PhD seminar was inspired by much of what I’ve learned in my 2+ years as Director of Digital History at Matrix and the History Department at MSU. I also benefited from the help of Anthea Josias (@AntheaJosias), a South African postdoctoral fellow and friend, who spent many hours with me sharing ideas, conceptualizing, and even assisting with the design of the course WordPress site during the fall of 2013.

For the past 12 weeks, six students from our nationally ranked African history graduate program and I met face-to-face every Thursday afternoon for three hours. As one would expect in a hybrid course, much intellectual work and dialogue takes place outside of regularly scheduled class meetings, mainly on student blogs and on Twitter (@za_prof1 and #ZAdhist). (Click here to visit the class site on the open web.)

April is devoted to the final assignment: a capstone digital project rather than the conventional journal article-length research paper usually assigned in a research seminar. Over the course of the term, each seminarian selected a topic, compiled a preliminary bibliography, outlined research questions and a work plan, and then received formal approval from me. Today I’m evaluating the status of projects. Formal presentations begin in a couple of weeks.

Tackling a digital project seems to have unleashed students’ creative energies. There is a Nelson Mandela Memory Project via Twitter; an online course on “The Culture of Sport in South Africa”; an Omeka-curated exhibit on Visual History of Anti-Apartheid Posters; a TimeMapper of MK Guerrilla Activities; a Visualization of Venda Clan Histories of Migration; and a KORA-based gallery of British South Africa Company documents during the Scramble for Africa. Click here for more info on each project.

Audience Matters

APP_8488806731_c029f5c7a8_zEpisode 81 of the Africa Past and Present podcast came out a week ago so this morning I’m checking the site’s analytics.

Who has downloaded or streamed our interview with Nigerian historian Dr. Chima Korieh?

The exact number of times Episode 81 has already been downloaded is unclear, partly because Apple’s iTunes doesn’t provide data. But from what I can tell a reasonable estimate is about 3,500. And it’s only April 8.

Overall, the site has received more than 22,000 hits and experienced over 53GB of bandwith usage by listeners in 66 countries. As can be expected for a digital project in English based in a U.S. university, the visible domains of most listeners are linked to US educational institutions, but there are significant numbers of downloads from Germany, South Africa, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Brazil. On the African continent, the latest episode has already been downloaded in Zimbabwe, Cape Verde, Madagascar, Tanzania. Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Namibia.

Who these listeners are is much more difficult to ascertain. But our core audience tends to be students, scholars, and journalists. Another interesting aspect of the website’s analytical data is that four earlier episodes are still getting hundreds of downloads. It is worth pointing out that all these shows feature interviews with African colleagues: Abdi Samatar, Nwando Achebe, Sekibakiba Peter Lekgoathi, and Enocent Msindo. It’s great to see such a thirst for African voices and knowledge out there on the Internets. The struggle continues.

VIDEO: Interview with “Africa is a Country” founder Sean Jacobs


Dr. Sean Jacobs is a pioneering digital Africanist. In this recent interview at Butler University, he reflects on the history and impact of the popular Africa is a Country website, which he founded a decade ago as the Leo Africanus blog. Jacobs also offers insights on how the Internet and social media influence culture and politics on the African continent.

Source: “The Butler Beat” at Butler University.

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