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Elemental Reading
Elemental Reading: New Directions in South African Literature

Drawing on the elemental turn in the humanities (whether elemental media studies, atmospheric methods, or the poetics of air), this project takes a southern African literary angle on these debates, directing its enquiry in two directions. The first pertains to the close analysis of literary texts and comprises two sections, “Reading Underwater” and “Reading for Rain”. The second entitled “Books in/and Elements” addresses themes of print culture and book history and traces books in elements – books that are burned, drowned, buried, or affected by the air and atmosphere. 


Funded by the South African National Research Foundation, hosted at the University of the Witwatersrand, 2023-2025.


Principal investigator: Isabel Hofmeyr

Co-investigators: Charne Lavery and Sarah Nuttall

Oceanic Humanities Global South
Oceanic Humanities for the Global South

The founding project for this platform aimed to produce critical ocean studies research appropriate to and for the global South, to decolonise the histories of oceanic space, and to provide new approaches to aesthetic understandings of water.  It was a collaborative exercise in placing different kinds of knowledge in proximity – about art, oceans and the south. It produced a wide range of research and postgraduate scholarship, did substantial public humanities work, and advanced new methods of embodied oceanic research practice. The project was led by researchers based at the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Pretoria and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, with international partners from Mozambique, India, Jamaica and Barbados. It also attracted and convened associate members from around the world along with several cohorts of graduate students.


Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon  Foundation and hosted at the University of the Witwatersrand, 2018-2023.


Principal investigator: Isabel Hofmeyr 

Co-investigators: Charne Lavery  and Phindezwa Mnyaka



Lakshmi Subramanian

Rimli Bhattacharya

Alan Cobley

Euclides Gonçalves

Mona Webber

Antarctica Africa Arts
Antarctica, Africa and the Arts

Antarctica has increasing interrelationship with Africa's climate future. Africa is widely predicted to be the continent worst affected by climate change, and Antarctica and its surrounding Southern Ocean are uniquely implicated as crucial mediators for changing global climate and currents, rainfall patterns, and sea level rise. In the context of a global rise in research on postcolonial Antarctica and the Antarctic humanities, the project aimed to bridge the Antarctica-(South) Africa divide. It explored South African visual, artistic and literary material through which Antarctica has been represented and imagined, hosted the first local Antarctic Humanities conference, and laid the foundation for a network of African Antarctic Humanities and Arts researchers and practitioners. 

Funded by the South African National Research Foundation and hosted at the University of Pretoria, 2021-2023.


Principal investigator: Charne Lavery 

Hydrocolonial Perspectives
Southern African Literature: Hydrocolonial Perspectives

This project was an experiment in reading for water.  Participants were invited to choose a southern African text of their choice and read it closely for water.  A special issue of Interventions resulted, offering an exciting methodological tool kit that follows the sensory, political and agentive power of water across literary texts. The special issue follows rivers, rain, streams, tunnels and sewers; connects atmospheric, surface and ground water; describes competing hydrological traditions and hydro-epistemologies. It proposes new literary regions defined less by nation and area than by coastlines, river basins, monsoons, currents and hydro-cosmologies. Whether thinking along water courses, below the water line, or through the fall of precipitation, reading for water moves laterally, vertically and contrapuntally between different water-worlds and hydro-imaginaries.  In so doing, it illuminates literary space as proprioceptive, volumetric and ambient.  


Funded by the South African National Research Foundation and hosted at the University of the Witwatersrand, 2020-2022.


Principal investigator: Isabel Hofmeyr

Co-investigator: Charne Lavery and Sarah Nuttall

Southern Oceanic Humanities
Southern Oceanic Humanities

This project considered representations of the Southern Ocean, south Atlantic, Indian Ocean, with their islands, ships and research bases.


Taking an inter- and transdisciplinary approach, it examined the small but significant body of literary work on the sub-Antarctic islands, the extensive visual and textual record of Antarctica, and to apply humanistic approaches to other forms of scientific and cultural production related to the region. Literature of the region includes Yvette Christiansë’s poetry and fiction, colonial-era representations in the fiction of writers such as H. Rider Haggard and Joseph Conrad, as well as the work of Marguerite Poland, J. M. Ledgard and Zakes Mda. Visual culture includes records from the SANAP Antarctic Legacy of South Africa (ALSA) database, and media images. Taking a humanities-based approach to literature and visual culture of the Southern Ocean region, it contributed to producing a Southern perspective on the oceanic humanities more widely.


Funded by National Research Foundation as part of the South African National Antarctic Programme and hosted at WiSER, the University of the Witwatersrand, 2018-2020.


Principal investigator: Isabel Hofmeyr

Co-investigator: Charne Lavery 

Literary Ecologies Indian Ocean
Literary Ecologies of the Indian Ocean World: Mauritian and Southern African Intersections

This workshop sought to structure an inter-regional conversation between Mauritian and southern African oceanic literary traditions. Working within a framework of literary ecologies, the workshop examined historical, aesthetic and environmental themes from a global south perspective. The focus on southern Africa and Mauritius highlights two historically inter-related regions within the Indian Ocean world but which are seldom brought into conversation.


The project draws on recent work from oceanic literary scholars that pioneers a post-human perspective, utilizing ideas like amphibious aesthetics; littoral form; monsoon assemblages; heavy waters; hydropoetics; underwater aesthetics; trans-corporeality; and sea ontologies, all concepts that push us closer to a material engagement with water.


Funded by the South African National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) and hosted at University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Mauritius, 2018.


Principal investigator: Isabel Hofmeyr

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