Two academics from the Centre for Communication, Media and Society (CCMS) within the School of Applied Human Sciences Professor Ruth Teer-Tomaselli and ARROWSA Chair Dr Mary Lange co-authored the book Telling Stories of Pain and Hope: Museums in South Africa and Ireland. The book was launched recently by UNISA Press in collaboration with Bergtheil Local History Museum in Durban.
The book reflects on selected museums in South Africa and Ireland that commemorate the pain of the past and hope for the future. The authors spoke to a range of people who work at or with community, local, and national museums, recording their curatorial choices of stories, artifacts, and exhibitions.
A primary focus is a way in which museum guides, curators, and managers share their stories and the stories of their ancestors, and those of other people’s ancestors who were caught up in conflict while interweaving the stories of the authors.
‘The two countries have parallel histories of colonialism, displacement and division, and have fought for land and sovereignty. Both have embarked on a process of healing and reconciliation, yet there is an ongoing struggle for reparation and the reversal of previous injustices,’ said Teer-Tomaselli. ‘Each place we visited in South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Dublin has witnessed political repression and civil violence. Museums of the 21st century have the potential to contribute to catharsis and mutual understanding.’
The book emanated from Lange’s PhD study that was supervised by Teer-Tomaselli. Both academics received Working Groups programme funding from the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences to extend the research toward a publishable manuscript.
Said Lange, ‘We included local and national museums to identify if and how the telling of traumatic stories of the distant past impacted the guides’ well-being differently to those who told stories of recent history in the community museums. We, therefore, included Ncome and Blood River museums in South Africa and Kilmainham Gaol museum in Dublin, Ireland, and conducted in-depth interviews with the staff and guides. We also visited and analyzed many other museums in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and England that tell stories of conflict, such as of apartheid and the Irish Republican struggle, through the buildings the museums are in or the artifacts, exhibits, dioramas, and videos.’
The academics wove their own stories into the book’s narrative, resulting in a communal autoethnographic approach whereby their stories are told with those of the guides, museums, and the history of South Africa and Ireland.