Department of History

Welcome to our website. Our Department of History has been teaching courses in African, European, and World History since 1946. We have a special focus on South African history which reflects our grounding in a society which in the last few decades experienced enormous social changes, including the transition to democracy in 1994 and the subsequent constitutional change.

We offer courses that look at the historical forces of colonialism, apartheid, the political liberation that have shaped our present democracy, as well as the forging of new identities in the democratic era. Since we are part of the African continent and on account of Dutch and British colonial past, we also offer courses that explore these connections.

We offer a whole suite of undergraduate modules/courses delivered in two semesters annually. The exciting range of World History options reflects the latest research in many fields. Our tutorial system encourages an interactive approach to learning, drawing on physical and electronic resources of our excellent library. Our degree programmes, which include specialisation in Global Studies, African Studies, and interdisciplinary Historical Studies, are also flexible to allow students the opportunity to pursue their own interests.

We, in collaboration with the College of Education, offer a certificate Short Course in School History Enrichment which has been especially designed for secondary school history teachers. 

At postgraduate level, we offer a variety of papers in the Honours programmes. And for those who wish to undertake independent research, we offer supervised research masters and doctoral degrees. Our staff is particularly able to guide research projects on various aspects of South African, Southern African, and global economic, social, cultural, political, and intellectual histories. We have expertise in other fields as well, including heritage, tourism, gender studies and history education.

We are intimately involved in the production of two academic journals, the South African Historical Journal, and the African Historical Review. Both these journals enjoy international recognition and provide an ideal venue for scholars working in fields mainly related to southern African and African history. The South African Historical Journal is accredited by the Institute for Scientific Information and is abstracted in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index, Current Contents/Arts and Humanities, Historical Abstracts and America: History and Life. The African Historical Review is accredited by the South African departments of Basic Education and Higher Education and Training.

Some members of the Department are rated social scientists, accredited by the National Research Foundation for their research achievements. This attests to the quality of the research and teaching offered and assures prospective students of exceptional academic support and guidance in their studies.

Since 2013 the Department has been offering full online modules at Honours level. These include:

  • Research Methodology in History (HSY4801)
  • Forging Southern African Identities (HSY4803)
  • Themes from Modern South African History (HSY4804)
  • Research Report in History (HRHSY82)
  • Terrorism in Global History (HSY4806)

These modules provide students with important insights into some of the most pertinent topics of our time, as well as critical research skills. Students have access to a wide range of relevant electronic sources including journal articles and e-books and they have the opportunity to interact with their lecturer(s) and fellow students in a full online environment.  

Our Department has also kept up with the exigent circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic, by providing a range of options for online assessments which include portfolios and take-home examinations.

Postgraduate Supervision

The Department of History has a long tradition of supervising Master’s dissertations and PhD theses. For obvious reasons, Unisa historians have always focused very strongly on topics that are relevant in South African scholarship, especially in the fields of colonial history and the history of apartheid. Thus many Unisa graduates have been supervised who completed their studies on various relevant aspects of the economic, social, cultural, and political history of South Africa.

Since South Africa’s colonial past embedded the country into various international linkages, some students also explored the different ways in which South African history has become part of a wider network of global relations. Such topics range from the international ramifications of the South African War (1899-1902) to international protest against the apartheid regime to the Cold War conflicts on the African continent.  Some members of the Department also have the necessary expertise to supervise topics that extend beyond the scope of southern African and general African themes. These themes include British history, American history, and select themes from world history and intellectual history.

We recommend very strongly that potential candidates for Master’s and Doctoral degrees contact the Department of History before they embark on their research projects. It goes without saying that any efficient supervision of postgraduate research must be based on the expertise of the supervisor in the respective field. If you want to do your research in a very narrowly defined area that has no connection at all with the themes that Unisa historians are able to cover, such as the microhistory of a specific community in a foreign country, you may find that the Department does not have the necessary expertise in your particular field of interest. If this is the case, we may not be able to provide students with the quality support that is required to bring an MA dissertation or a doctoral thesis to its successful completion.

In order to avoid any disappointment, it is therefore absolutely necessary to establish whether your envisaged research can be realistically expected to be monitored by a member of the Unisa Department of History. Please consult with the Department before you apply for studying for a postgraduate degree at Unisa. Tell us more about your research interests and plans by submitting a draft paper of three pages when you contact the Department of History.

Among the questions that the Department may want to discuss with any potential applicants for a postgraduate research project are:

  • Is your research connected to any relevant themes in South African history?
  • Is your envisaged research connected to any of the themes mentioned below?
  • If not, would you be able to expand the scope of your planned research in order to accommodate transnational aspects that fit in with the expertise of the staff members in the Department of History?
  • Is your research based on sources in foreign languages that are unfamiliar to members of the Department?
  • Do you feel confident in accepting the challenge of writing an MA dissertation (ca. 170 pages) or a PhD dissertation (ca. 300 pages) in English for submission to a board of international examiners?

The following encompasses topics and themes that staff members would prefer to discuss with potential candidates for MA and doctoral studies.  Please do not hesitate to contact individual staff members if you have suggestions for a research topic.

Ms M Blom

  • Afrikaner nationalism
  • South African press
  • Liberation struggle in South Africa
  • Morality and Christianity in South Africa

Dr S Madida

  • Public history and post-apartheid heritage
  • Critical heritage studies
  • Public arts and cultural representations
  • Museums and galleries
  • World heritage
  • Politics of history, heritage and memory
  • History education

Prof FA Mouton

  • South African liberalism
  • Afrikaner nationalism
  • Segregation and apartheid
  • Black resistance movements
  • White parliamentary politics
  • Press history
  • Military history
  • Border conflicts of the apartheid state

Mr B Mtombeni

  • Pre-colonial and post-colonial African history
  • Religion and Slavery
  • Sports history
  • Tourism history
  • Agrarian history

Prof RS Viljoen

  • South African colonial history
  • Church history, missionaries and Christianity in southern Africa
  • Disease in colonial history
  • Biographies
  • Colonial identities in southern Africa
  • Indigenous music
  • History of Higher Education institutions
  • Modern South African history

Dr FN Ntloedibe

  • The slave trade and slavery and slave culture
  • 19th and 20th century African history
  • 19th century US History
  • African American history
  • African diaspora
  • Decoloniality, Africanisation and epistemological transformations
  • Religion

Mr N Southey

  • Southern Africa during the colonial period
  • Christianity, religion, belief systems, and history (southern Africa from the 18th to 21st centuries)
  • History education and the teaching of the discipline of history (southern Africa)
  • Historiography (southern Africa and the English-speaking world)
  • Women’s history, masculinities, gender relations, and gendered identities in history (southern Africa from the 18th to 21st centuries)
  • Travel, exploration and tourism (southern Africa from the 18th to 21st centuries)
  • Heritage and commemoration (southern Africa from the 18th to 21st centuries)
  • Topics related to the history of cultural expression and sport (southern Africa from the 18th to 21st centuries)
  • Connections between southern Africa and Britain, the United States, and the English-speaking world

Contact us

Mrs. A Theron
Tel: 012 429 6842


Last modified: 2021/06/22