Open Secrets, Off the Record

Audience, Intimate Knowledge, and the Crisis of the Post-Apartheid State

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author: Jon Soske
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This article reflects on the ways that individuals, communities, and political organizations sometimes invest in an understanding of history based on their lived experiences or, to borrow a term from Hugh Raffles, their “intimate knowledge.“ Debates regarding the practice of public history often begin with the question of how historians can—or should—address the abstract figure of “the public.“ In contrast, this article discusses how individuals and communities with political, emotional, and ideological commitments to a particular historical narrative emerge as an audience through their decision to engage, or sometimes not to engage, with the historian's research and publications. Drawing on my own research into the life of a South African anti-apartheid activist, Dr. Abu Baker “Hurley“ Asvat, this article also analyzes how contemporary struggles for historical visibility not only shape the terrain and process of academic research, but can also draw the historian's practice of writing into a broader landscape of discursive and political battles over the past.

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