28 June 2021 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Istock
Just like in 2020, the ISG is once again boasting four AHP fellowships, a huge achievement for such a small research unit.

The International Studies Group (ISG) at the University of the Free State (UFS) is again making strides on the international stage. This year, four postdoctoral fellows were selected for the African Humanities Programme (AHP), which is presented through the American Council of Learned Societies and funded by the Carnegie Corporation

The four postdoctoral fellows are Dr Una Sechele, Dr Bryson Nkhoma, Dr Sarah-Jane Walton, and Dr Innocent Dande. This follows in the historic footsteps of five UFS postdoctoral fellows selected for the 2020 AHP fellowships. Their fellowship term starts on 1 July 2021 and run until 1 July 2022. 

The grant makes it possible for the four postdocs to focus on a major project, which usually culminates in the publication of a single-authored research-based monograph. “The grants are particularly important at a time when internal funding sources are under strain (all postdocs are encouraged to seek external grants wherever possible, and most succeed),” said Prof Ian Phimister, Head of the ISG at the UFS. 

Being part of the ISG lays foundation 

The ISG is one of the unique research centres at the UFS. The group comprises postdoctoral fellows, master’s and doctoral students from the History discipline. The ISG has a rigorous selection process, and according to Prof Phimister, the unit receives far more applications than they can accommodate. “We provide close mentoring and advice as to how best to position themselves academically in an international and regional context,” he said. 

“I am immensely proud of the achievements of these extremely talented early-career scholars in what is a highly competitive academic environment; the fact that they can do this brings great credit to the UFS,” said Prof Phimister.

AHP fellowships are highly competitive  

The AHP receives more than 500 applications for 47 postdoctoral fellowships. “We've taken note of your accomplishments at the UFS, and we are especially impressed by the kind of hands-on mentoring your postdocs are receiving,” said Prof Fred Hendricks, AHP Associate Director for Southern Africa. 

Proud of their achievements


Bryson Nkhoma Photo_new webDr Bryson Nkhoma 

Dr Bryson Nkhoma’s research interest is agriculture and environmental history. Dr Nkhoma is grateful to have been selected for the AHP fellowship. He said, “It is a rare opportunity for me as an ISG fellow.” The funding will enable him to collect more data for his research, support editorials for the draft book, and procure extra books for his research. “And if all publishers close their doors to me, the AHP series will be an option for my manuscript,” he said. 

Dr Nkhoma said the fellowships are about international recognition, not only for postdoctoral fellows, but also for the UFS. “It means that a fellow is recognised as a distinguished scholar, one who can generate a scholarly convincing proposal,” he said. 

Walton, S. Photo_web use Dr Sarah-Jane Walton

As an urban historian, her PhD research considers the First World War as a significant lens for examining issues of local and transnational identities and urban change in (ex)colonial cities, such as Cape Town. She regards AHP fellowship as an exciting opportunity to assist with the revision of her PhD into a monograph.  “Such grants are invaluable for giving young Africanists the time and funding to develop their ideas, while connecting awardees to an international network of scholars whose research is grounded in Africa,” she said. 


Dr Dande_Web newDr Innocent Dande

His research interests focus on animal history and the socio-cultural history of Southern Africa.  He is currently researching and writing about Harare’s working-class and informal eating cultures. “My project, Zimbabwe’s Urban Foodscapes: Class, Identity and Culture, 1980-2020, uses food as prism or lens with which to understand Harare’s recent past,” Dr Dande said.  He is planning to use the grant to gather more data and to buy relevant reading material. “My intention is to write articles to come up with a draft manuscript between now and the end of next year and to hopefully publish it,” he said. 

Dr Dande said the grants from fellowships such as the AHP are of great importance, as it avails research funds, and opportunities to network with colleagues and senior academics in Africa and throughout the world.

Dr Una Sechele Una Sechele_web use new

Dr Sechele said the grant will support the research costs of her postdoctoral project, which examines the shifting roles and duties in Botswana society when husbands permanently return to their families following a period of labour migration. “Since my topic involves extensive fieldwork in Botswana in terms of interviews and archival research, this funding will enable me to collect data in even the most remote areas of the country,” Dr Sechele said.

She regards the grant as a critical opportunity, because it assists in fulfilling research goals. “Research can be costly, and there are often hidden costs that are overlooked when creating a research budget,” she said. 



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