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22 August 2018
Prof Coetzee is retelling old stories in a new book
"Failing to Learn Doomed to repeat" was one of the bookworks on display.

The title of Prof Jan K Coetzee’s latest book, Books & Bones & Other Things, says it all. The book looks into the many aspects that have built our society by presenting in a new way the stories contained in old books collected over the years. 

Prof Coetzee is a Senior Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of the Free State (UFS). Books & Bones & Other Things was launched on 14 August 2018 and coincided with an exhibition of various “bookworks”   art installations by Prof Coetzee that feature old books, sculptures, artefacts, and fossils.
 
Book resulting from research programme 
   

“This is a book on books so the library is the perfect venue to launch a book on old texts as documents of life,” said Prof Coetzee.

For the past seven years he has been directing a Master’s and PhD programme in Sociology called The Narrative Study of Lives. His project, Documents of Life, from which this book came, focuses on a collection of old texts the oldest of which dates back to 1605.

“We live in storytelling societies and for as long as we can remember we have been telling stories. Over time the ability to produce books was born. Any collection of books can tell you a lot about your own life and the society you live in."

“I cannot read the stories of many of these old books because their narratives are closed. I have to re-narrate the books, change the narrative convention and present them in a way that makes sense to me. By combining the books with art and artefacts I want the books to tell their ancient stories in new ways.”

Book launches and intellectual discussions

At the book launch, Prof Corli Witthuhn, Vice-Rector: Research said: “What we have achieved with this launch and exhibition is unbelievable. We always try to create an intellectual space in the library.

“A book such as this is the pinnacle of an academic career. It is multidisciplinary and it looks at the world in a different way. That is what scholarship is about.”

A painting by Robert Hodgins was also handed over to the Johannes Stegmann Gallery, home of the corporate collection of the UFS, at the event. 

News Archive

Africa the birthplace of mathematics, says Prof Atangana
2017-11-17


 Description: Prof Abdon Atangana, African Award of Applied Mathematics  Tags: Prof Abdon Atangana, African Award of Applied Mathematics

Prof Abdon Atangana from the UFS Institute for Groundwater Studies.
Photo: Supplied

 

Prof Abdon Atangana from the Institute for Groundwater Studies at the University of the Free State recently received the African Award of Applied Mathematics during the International conference "African’s Days of Applied Mathematics" that was held in Errachidia, Morocco. Prof Atangana delivered the opening speech with the title "Africa was a temple of knowledge before: What happened?” The focus of the conference was to offer a forum for the promotion of mathematics and its applications in African countries.

When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture to be disorganised and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn’t even discovered yet.

Africa is home to the world’s earliest known use of measuring and calculation. Thousands of years ago Africans were using numerals, algebra and geometry in daily life. “Our continent is the birthplace of both basic and advanced mathematics,” said Prof Atangana. 

Africa attracted a series of immigrants who spread knowledge from this continent to the rest of the world.

Measuring and counting
In one of his examples of African mathematics knowledge Prof Atangana referred to the oldest mathematical instrument as the Lebombo bone, a baboon fibula used as a measuring instrument, which was named after the Lebombo Mountains of Swaziland. The world’s oldest evidence of advanced mathematics was also a baboon fibula that was discovered in present-day Democratic Republic of Congo.

Another example he used is the manuscripts in the libraries of the Sankoré University, one of the world’s oldest tertiary institutions. This university in Timbuktu, Mali, is full of manuscripts mainly written in Ajami in the 1200s AD. “When Europeans and Western Asians began visiting and colonising Mali between the 1300s and 1800s, Malians hid the manuscripts in basements, attics and underground, fearing destruction or theft by foreigners. This was certainly a good idea, given the Europeans' history of destroying texts in Kemet and other areas of the continent. Many of the scripts were mathematical and astronomical in nature. In recent years, as many as 700 000 scripts have been rediscovered and attest to the continuous knowledge of advanced mathematics and science in Africa well before European colonisation. 

Fractal geometry

“One of Africa’s major achievements was the advanced knowledge of fractal geometry. This knowledge is found in a wide aspect of Africa life: from art, social design structures, architecture, to games, trade and divination systems. 

“The binary numeral system was also widely known through Africa before it was known throughout much of the world. There is a theory that it could have influenced Western geometry, which led to the development of digital computers,” he said. 

“Can Africa rise again?” Prof Atangana believes it can.

He concluded with a plea to fellow African researchers to do research that will build towards a new Africa.

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