Inaugural Lecture: Professor Gary Baines

30 July 2014

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Deans, Heads of Department, colleagues, students, family and friends of Prof Baines, ladies and gentlemen – molweni, good evening, welcome.

The University Calendar lists all the current full professors of Rhodes University. Professor Gary Fred Baines, Head of the History Department, is one of the more recent entries on this list.

This evening, as is our tradition, we have the presentation of the Inaugural Lecture that follows the University conferring the status of full professor on an academic.

It is an evening on which as academic peers, colleagues, students, family, friends, and the public we celebrate the intellectual and scholarly achievements of one of our professors.

Gary was born in Durban but grew up in Cape Town where he attended Sweet Valley Primary and Bergvliet High School. He had every intention of becoming a Chartered Accountant until his final school year, but then (wisely) decided on becoming a secondary school teacher. He opted to complete his national service before going to study History and English at UCT.

Gary then moved to the Eastern Cape where he has since lived and worked. He taught history at high schools in Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth, prior to taking a position at Vista University in Port Elizabeth.

He joined the Rhodes History Department as a Lecturer in 1990 and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1994 following the award of his PhD degree. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2006 and to full Professor in 2013, as well as appointed the Head of the History Department following the retirement of Prof Paul Maylam. 

Gary’s primary teaching commitments are the 2nd and 3rd year courses which have evolved in tandem with his research interests in representations and remembrance of the past.

His History 201 course: ‘Representation of the 20th Century’, evaluates literary and visual texts as history, as well as how memory and myth function in contemporary society. His History 313 course, ‘Contested Pasts: History and Memory’, explores the role that the state and other institutions, as well as cultural brokers and political elites play in the shaping of public history.

He has taught Honours courses on ‘South African Urban History & Culture’ and ‘The Apocalyptic Imagination in History and Contemporary Culture’. Currently he offers an Honours course on ‘Cold War Studies’ that was introduced in conjunction with Prof Peter Vale.  

His work on the subject of South Africa’s ‘Border War’ has culminated in a recently published book in Bloomsbury’s War, Culture and Society series which interrogates the stories constructed by SADF veterans.

Gary says that the work is “partly cathartic as it has afforded me the opportunity to engage with issues of white guilt and shame, and explore to what extent apartheid’s militarised society shaped (male) identities after 1994”. A by-product of this research has been a growing interest in trauma and victimology.

In pursuit of this interest (and with support of Prof Lindy Wilbraham in the Psychology Department), Gary has developed a SANPAD funded project titled ‘Narrating Psychosocial Stress and Resilience of South African Apartheid-Era Veterans’. This in turn morphed into the Atlantic Philanthropies funded Legacy of Apartheid project directed by Dr Theresa Edlmann.

Gary says the interest generated by this project and his own publications has established the Rhodes History Department’s reputation in the field of war studies.

Gary’s philosophy of history has been influenced by a range of epistemologies and intellectual paradigms. He cut his teeth on political economy and social history as is evident from his early work on the history of the New Brighton community of Port Elizabeth.

Under the influence of the ‘linguistic turn’, he developed an interest in the construction of (grand) narratives and appropriated the tools of discourse analysis for some of his subsequent work on the reading of texts – both literary and lyrical. He also familiarised himself with the domain of visual culture which has informed his approach to writing about films and photographs.

His interest in how the past has been mediated and represented drew his attention to the burgeoning corpus of literature on memory studies. This, in turn, led to an interest in ‘sites of memory’ and occasioned work on memorials and museums, as well as an engagement with the debate about the relationship of academic and public history.

Gary believes that historians should participate in public debates, although he does not advocate that all historians – himself included – should aspire to become public intellectuals. His own forays into electronic and news media have been undertaken in the belief that we need historically-informed commentary on current affairs. And his short pieces published in popular magazines such as History Today attempt to make historical research more accessible.

Gary believes that the ability to distil the findings of academic work for a non-specialist audience is an “underrated skill and fulfils a valuable function in ensuring that scholarly opinion is disseminated in the mass media”. In his view, scholars should not be producing research solely for the edification of their peers.

Gary is the recipient of several scholarships, fellowships and grants and is an NRF Rated Researcher.

He has supervised four Doctoral and four Masters theses. Currently he is supervising one PhD, as well as three Masters dissertations (one jointly with Dr Edlmann). He has also been an external examiner at several South African universities.

Given the particular focus of his research, Gary has been professionally involved in the Port Elizabeth Historical Society in various roles. He has also been a co-organiser  of  the  conference  on  'Port  Elizabeth's  Place  in  South  African  History  and Historiography', a member of the Committee organising the South African Historical Society Biennial Conference held at Rhodes University; has been a member of the South African Historical Society, the Editorial Board of Contree: Journal of Urban and Regional History and the Editorial  Committee  of  Kronos:  Journal  of  Cape  History.

Gary is also very committed to Rhodes, currently serving as Chair of the Cory Library Board as well as serving on the Humanities Higher Degrees Committee, the Humanities Faculty Standing Committee and the Committee of Assessors.

He has published two books and co-edited one, has 13 book chapters to his name and 23 publications in accredited and peer-reviewed journals with a further 19 in other publications.

He has presented at one international and four national Public Lectures. He has also made presentations at 25 international and several national conferences and workshops, six of which have been published.

Gary’s teaching and research cover a wide range of interests which he says might suggest that he is something of a “dilettante”, but he prefers to see himself as akin to Isaiah Berlin’s fox that draws on a wide variety of experiences rather than his hedgehog that views the world through a single lens or defining idea. He has followed many leads – as opposed to burrowing a single furrow – in the pursuit of knowledge.

His approach is interdisciplinary and unashamedly eclectic as he is particularly wary of the parochialism of South African historiography. Indeed, he has regularly “retooled” so as to avoid becoming narrowly specialised in one or other ghetto of (South) African studies.

It is my great pleasure to invite Professor Gary Baines to address us. His lecture this evening is titled "Commemorating War: The Politics of Memory/Forgetting".



Last Modified: Wed, 12 Nov 2014 14:51:42 SAST