13 March 2019 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo Rulanzen Martin
Prof Neil Roos, editor of the Journal for  Contemporary History
From left; Prof Neil Roos, newly appointed editor; Dr Chitja Twala; Prof Heidi Hudson, and Prof Henning Melber, editor of the Acta Academica Journal.

The repositioning of The Journal for Contemporary History in the Faculty of the Humanities can be likened to the French word ‘renaissance’; maybe an overused cliché even in this lofty academic arena, but with a new editor, the journal will construct a new identity for itself and the faculty.

“In my view, this journal occupies an important place in the faculty’s strategy. It is not only a vehicle to promote interdisciplinarity and internationalisation, but also serves as an important space for building capacity,” said Prof Heidi Hudson, dean of the Faculty of the Humanities.

Prof Neil Roos, new editor of the journal, succeeds Prof Pieter Duvenage. He will steer the journal along with Prof Heidi Hudson and Dr Chitja Twala, Vice-dean of the Faculty of the Humanities.

On Thursday 14 February 2019, Prof Heidi Hudson, hosted a function on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State to reset the journal’s agenda.

Finding a new focus

Prof Roos pointed out that the Journal for Contemporary History has a long history; it is an archive in itself because it contains published work which would probably not have been published elsewhere. He added that History as a discipline has changed over time and that “the journal needs to change to where the discipline finds itself these days”.

“It has been interdisciplinary, and it must remain that way, as it invites work from other fields. I would like to encourage submissions that cover a stronger theoretical engagement.”

Commenting on how the journal might be repositioned, Prof Roos said, “We can ground the journal in the Global South and soften the restriction that articles must come from sub-Saharan Africa”. Prof Roos is also of the opinion that this could encourage articles from other parts of the Global South, stimulate theoretical and comparative discussions beyond South Africa, and potentially enrich debates about history, politics, and global ethics. He suggested to the editorial board that the name of the journal be changed to the Southern Journal for Contemporary History

Making the journal a first choice for scholars across disciplines

The Journal for Contemporary History first appeared in 1975; until 2015, 94 issues have appeared, 764 articles and 240 book reviews were published, and the journal had five editors. “The journal has shifted from the histories of whites, while a growing number of liberation histories were included in the journal,” said Prof Roos.  Only essays with its empirical core focusing on sub-Saharan Africa since 1945, were considered. The journal was accredited by the Department of Higher Education in 1991.

Prof Roos insisted that in order to make this a journal of choice, “we must be quite clear about its identity and what it stands for”. It will retain and strengthen its current interdisciplinary feel, although all submissions will be expected to address the unique disciplinary feature of History, namely, the study of change over time. In addition, it will include a section for shorter review essays (dealing, for instance, with the regional or comparative historiographies of any number of topics; or the oeuvre of major scholars and commentators on the contemporary history of the Global South). Providing a platform for essays of this sort, or where several authors take on a particular theme, would further mark the journal’s unique identity. 

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