SAHS 2011

Posted on | juli 1, 2011 | No Comments

The University of KwaZulu-Natal hosted this year’s Southern African Historical Society (SAHS) biennial meeting. As a result of my travel fiascos (thanks again, Delta) I missed a good hunk of the meeting. Still, what I did get to experience over the final day-and-a-half was a wonderful combination of fellowship, intellectual inspiration, networking, and book buying.

The fellowship is probably my favorite part. South Africa has two major historical organizations, but the two do not have as much overlap as one might think for reasons that seem to have to do with Byzantine infighting and territorial squabbles. SAHS is the most prominent of the two and thus the meetings every other year represent a chance for a large part of the constellation of Southern Africanists to gather. The conference has dinners and lunches and sessions a interspersed with teas. The meeting is small enough to be manageable – the AHA or ASA this is not. But it’s still big enough that it can be a struggle to see everyone you want to see.

Intellectually SAHS is a very fine conference that tends to bring about the standard difficulty of any given session having more than one panel (most of the time there were four panels at any given session) that one would want to see. My own paper went well, which of course means that when I get home I want to get right back to writing.

Networking is an essential part of any conference. Now there are those who are more blatant and self-promotional than others. Every conference has its share of hustlers. But for most people networking is actually simply an extension of fellowship. In the process of seeing old friends you make new ones, and future panels and collaborations develop. Conferences present opportunity and one need not be a hustler to benefit from that opportunity.

And, yes, there is the book buying. South Africa has a vibrant publishing industry, but it is always amazing how many important books come out that never get an American or even a British publisher, and as a result, coming to South Africa for me always is about buying books that I might not otherwise hear about for months or longer. Of course this always makes the remainder of the trip a bit more burdensome, as books add weight, but that’s the bibliophile’s and historian’s plight.

From my cozy b&b near the university I have moved onto the Gerden Court Marine Parade on the familiar confines of the beach front. It’s time to decompress, to catch up on events in South Africa, and generally to enjoy this country I so love. I am off to research all next week, so I am going to make the most of my weekend.

AUTHOR: Derek Charles Catsam
E-MAIL: derekcatsam [at]


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