South African Society for History Teaching

A short history

Its foundations

Since the first official strides to ensure a space for teaching History as outlined earlier, it appears as though some practitioners of the subject/discipline have always been willing to function constructively within the security of an academic association, specifically focused on History development and History issues. In 1913 such an association was formed by the two tertiary institutions mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, ideological differences between the Dutch-Afrikaans and English language groups, exacerbated perhaps by the uncertainties associated with these years as a result of World War I, meant that this well-meant effort was sunk in 1916.

Tensions between political parties during these times eventually resulted in History teaching being declared non-committal during the period 1918-1948 as far as official History syllabi in schools were concerned. Nevertheless, this drawback did not affect the production of History publications by academics.

During this period the Ministry of Education and a variety of associations were involved in educational activities that also benefited History to a lesser and/or greater extent. Cultivation of the development of History as subject for community purposes (especially ensuring that learners develop a historical consciousness), was a central focus.

Past ideological differences between the language groups still lingered on by the time the National Party took power in 1948. No official national historical association in South Africa existed as an independent voice from the government’s educational structures in 1950. Once again, the teaching community felt the need for a historical association most strongly. Perhaps the Department of Education’s announcement of the implementation of a new integrated subject, namely Social Studies, also triggered the defence mechanisms of all History practitioners – and perhaps also created another platform for differences in this regard.

Despite some constraints, the enthusiastic Inspector of Schools during those days, Dr. J.J. van Tonder, took the initiative and on 11 February 1956 all his efforts came to fruition when the Historical Association of South Africa (HASA) was founded by 400 people in the City Hall of Pretoria. Although HASA generated excitement among primary and secondary History educators, it eventually became the mouthpiece for tertiary History educators/Historians, and was especially dominated for years by concerned white historians from the historically Afrikaans universities as far as its conferences, articles (in its journal Historia) and its administrative management were concerned. Concern among Historians that HASA still had an overwhelming focus on History educators and History teaching issues, resulted in another foundation effort – 1965 –by historians of both official language groups in Bloemfontein. The South African Historical Society (SAHS) was formed by 37 historians of whom 6 were English.

It was firmly believed that both HASA and the SAHS had a function to fulfil that should complement each other. In practice, however, this “difference” in function was not easy to define, especially if the production of articles and publications of both (not even talking about its membership that reflects similarity) are criteria. Fact is that historians had to establish for themselves to what degree they wanted to be associated with the people they had trained (directly and indirectly) who found themselves in primary and secondary education (nowadays General Education and Training – GET and Further Education and Training – FET). Meanwhile, from 1978 the History educators were floating desperately between both these History ventures in search of a permanent identity, needing more practical hands-on assistance from professionals in the Higher Education and Training Band. Apart from Historia Junior, at least still in operation, other useful History teaching information lay scattered between journals such as Historia, Die Unie, Neon, Mentor, Tydskrif vir Middelbare Onderwys, Standpunte, Skoolblad, Educa, Onderwysblad and Onderwysbulletin. Historians and History educators with English as mother tongue published articles related to History teaching in journals such as Perspectives in Education, Education and Educational Review.

Divided perspectives and perceptions among the practitioners on the school History curriculum did not contribute to set a healthy platform for History activities within a society structure. HASA’s Historia Junior journal declined in the seventies. Perhaps its primary focus on South African History was a reason, although it has to be acknowledged that the retirement of Dr Van Tonder also had an impact. Perhaps the unfortunate absence of open-minded, balanced and/or representative perspectives has kept the ideological argument between historians from tertiary institutions and History teachers alive, with no unity in sight.

As a “last” effort in his professional capacity, Dr Van Tonder approached the former Rand Afrikaans University to take responsibility for the production of Historia Junior. This never happened, but a counter-initiative resulted from this plea and also probably the sense of a wider need among school History educators from all languages and races. In its first editorial note this new initiative, named Yesterday and Today, financially supported by the HASA, reflected concern over History as a declining subject because of the existing need to serve the educational community with creative and useable articles, having no intention to support any official viewpoint. It is also interesting to note that symposiums and seminars on History teaching, organised by tertiary institutions, took place from time to time outside the ambit of existing history associations or societies.

Tertiary academics, also involved in Yesterday and Today, organised a conference for History practitioners (didactics) at Unisa in July 1985. During this conference the first strides were made to establish a society for History teacher training.

In September 1985, Yesterday and Today reported as follows:


Society for the training of History teachers almost a reality

There was widespread enthusiasm for the idea of a Society of this nature. It was felt that a closer interaction between the different institutions and groups should be established. Accordingly a pilot committee consisting of Prof. M.H. Trümpelmann (RAU), Dr F.J. Stuart (Unisa) and Mr J.M.L. Horn (GOK) was elected to proceed with the drafting of a concept constitution and the planning of administrative arrangements. It is hoped that the proposed society will be a reality in 1986.


With a healthy and growing circulation of approximately 400 members of Yesterday and Today at hand (which can be regarded as proof of its need in especially primary and secondary education), another conference initiative by didactics specialists and historians, held in July 1986, finally prepared the ground for the founding of a society for History teachers.

The groundwork for this society was done by the History Teaching Methodology/Didactics specialists of RAU, Unisa and the Teaching Colleges of Goudstad, Pretoria and Johannesburg. At this conference (Unisa) the South African Society for History Teaching/Suid-Afrikaanse Vereniging vir Geskiedenisonderrig was founded. The name of the Society appears to have been used in two ways. Initially, from the date of its founding until at least 1988 when the first conference at US took place, it was referred to as the Society for the Training of History Teachers. During the annual meeting of the SASHT executive at US, the name change was accepted. By the time the 1992 conference took place, the new name of the Society was widely used. This change was apparently made to ensure that the Society’s focus was also inclusive of tertiary history educators from the History Didactics/Teaching Methodology and History Departments (See Appendix A for a Conference venue detail). For many years the SASHT did not use a specific logo to identity itself. After Yesterday and Today officially became part of the SASHT activities, this journal’s identity was spontaneously used for the SASHT as well.