Five Centuries of South African History
Students who take Thom McClendon’s classes at Southwestern on African history, colonialism and apartheid may soon notice a familiar name on one of their textbooks.
That’s because McClendon is the co-editor of a new book that provides a broad overview of the history of South Africa.
The book is titled The South Africa Reader: History, Culture, Politics, and will be published in December by Duke University Press as part of its World Reader Series. McClendon co-edited the book with Clifton Crais, a professor of history at Emory University who is one of the leading scholars on South African history.
The South African Reader is an anthology of historical primary sources related to all aspects of South Africa from initial contact with Europeans in the 1500s to the present, post-apartheid era. Selections in the book include songs and folktales passed down through the centuries, statements by 17th century Dutch colonists, and iconic documents such as The Freedom Charter adopted in 1955 by the African National Congress and its allies and Nelson Mandela’s “Statement from the Dock” in 1964. McClendon went to South Africa in 2011 and 2012 to obtain artwork and photos for the book.
McClendon said the book is designed to serve as a supplement to traditional textbooks on South African history. He and Crais wrote introductions to each section in the book, as well as each of the 80 selections.
McClendon said he has already been using part of the book for the course he teaches on apartheid in film and literature and will use the full book next year when he teaches a course in South African History.
The book is the third that McClendon has written or edited about South Africa. In 2002, he published a book titled Genders and Generations Apart: Labor Tenants and Customary Law in Segregation-Era South Africa, 1920s to 1940s, which was an outgrowth of his Ph.D. thesis at Stanford. In 2010 he published a book titled White Chief, Black Lords: Shepstone and the Colonial State in Natal, South Africa, 1845–1878. Theophilus Shepstone was an iconic figure in the early decades of colonial rule in the British colony of Natal, which later became part of South Africa.
McClendon said he became interested in South Africa in the mid-1980s when the country was frequently in the news because of the anti-apartheid uprisings. At the time, he was working as a corporate lawyer in San Francisco, but he decided to take a year off and travel around Africa. While he was in South Africa, he started up picking up history books and became more and more entranced with the country. Upon returning the United States, he applied to graduate schools and earned both a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Stanford. He has been a member of the Southwestern faculty since 1998.
McClendon is already at work on his next project, in which he is looking at the role of graduate students from South Africa in the anti-apartheid movement on U.S. college campuses in the 1980s.