Dr. Bodhisattva Kar, Head of the Department of Historical Studies, is one of the winners of the prestigious Teachers Award (DTA) of the University of Cape Town (UCT) 2020. The award goes a long way in teaching and learning. Dr. Kerr answered questions Helen Swingler From UCT News.
Please draw your background and where your interest in history began.
I was always a little bit of a storyteller, learning from the joy of the intellectual and political circuits of my book father and activist mother, and the bright city where I grew up soon – Calcutta. It was difficult to remain indifferent to history in India in the 1990s – as the Indian mainstream entered the new neoliberal economy, the university’s orthodoxy was caught up in the subtle adventures of underground world studies. There have been dramatic changes in both academic and historical life. The anger of our youth coincided with the political crisis of the post-socialist system, rapid identification contests, and the late arrival of post-colonialism in post-colonialism.
It is the intellectual, creative, and political forces that have shaped and sustained my interest in history.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I regularly attended disciplinary work at the Presidential College, Calcutta (undergraduate) and the University of Jawaharlal Nehru, New Delhi (graduate and doctoral). Both were academically strong institutions. But it is the intellectual, creative, and political forces that have shaped and sustained my interest in history. He was challenging, demanding and reflective. And like everyone else, I have learned a lot from endless debates and activist work with my friends and peers in classrooms, archives, and field work.
A.D. In 2007, after completing my PhD in border capitalism and national design, I entered the prestigious Institute of Social Sciences in Calcutta. Over the next five years, I had to spend some time at various universities and research institutes in the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States, and Mexico. This allowed me to listen to various local discussions, engage with historians who did not know me, and set my mind to different perspectives.
The luxury of self-study was exciting. It’s like a dream. But maybe my sense of history was stuck in the activist oven, so I realized my heart was teaching. Teaching is the best course. I wanted to teach more, to teach regularly – and to teach beyond the boundaries of environmental studies, especially at a public university in South South. At this point in my life, UCT happened.
Your teaching seems to be a two-way street between you and your students, each learning from the other and living in the same way as the traditional teacher / student relationship.
I say this to myself: Every opportunity to teach or supervise students is an opportunity to expand your horizons, develop your own skills, and think in a different set of materials, as long as it is not hell. Standard “professional field”. Teaching is about getting to know everyone who knows you and those who do not. Help students to understand how they feel about not knowing anything about them. On the other hand, it raises doubts about every issue you are accustomed to dealing with.
But this process cannot work unless you submit yourself to the same rules. If you consider class questions to be indicative of a lack of knowledge, you will lose your invitations. It is an invitation to think from another position, from another position, every time a hand is raised or someone says “I did not follow”.
After the 2015 UCT Transformation Project, South Africa University should be a fruitful time for history and curriculum change.
For me, the special intellectual value of teaching history in this context lies in its ability to inspire the idea of risk – letting students know that what is currently seemingly natural and inaccessible is historical, and therefore unsustainable. I think the instruction of our department is expressed in this reversal. But as trained historians, we are well aware that the devil is always in the details – even though the philosophy of teaching appears on paper, without real, repetitive, institutional enduring practices it means little. So, over the past few years, much of our teaching has had to do much to mentally reform the curriculum, as well as institutional reforms.
Teaching history at the age of Google requires a different approach to teaching.
Our homework assignments, multi-model assignments, correction of narrative bias in graduation, activities for each postgraduate student, etc. are one step in this direction. Teaching history at the age of Google requires a different approach to teaching than we did. Analyze, think, and act as historians for those who can’t find random search in Wikipedia and for us.
I am speaking intentionally in large numbers. It has always been a collaborative effort. In our courses, we not only focused on the history of Africa and the South, but also on the future, the conceptual thinking. All of our major courses are based on debate, dialectics and paradox. The two first-year undergraduate courses provide students with an overview of the last 500 years of non-euro-centered and conceptual world history. Our second-year core, “Historical Methods”, incorporates European ceremonial canons into dialectical relations with the past.
In contrast to the important and unitary thinking of African thought, our core of the third year of ‘Debates in Modern African Psychology’ highlights many, dynamic, and controversial worlds of African intellect.
All of these core courses informally and strategically address the seven choices we now offer to undergraduate students, four of which focus exclusively on African and South African history.
Instead of following a simple-minded regionalism, we are committed to establishing a truly democratic dialogue between the North and the South. Our Honorary Course course, which aims to teach students a wide range of archive skills and styles, from Cameroon, Guatemala and Pakistan to France, German works and the UK. In sleep stories, my chosen dignity works on the same principle.
But at the same time, the deep-rooted Anglo-Standard protocols in our institutions continue to deny common practice, cultural memory structures, and life forms in South African languages. In response, over the past four years, our History Access Program has sought to equip and encourage students to identify, explain, and deploy South African language concepts, forcing the first historical research into institutional language sources.
This program – along with the new, public history-focused course masters – is also aimed at making academic research accessible to the general public in a more modern and experimental format. We attract, support and provide theoretical guidance as well as technical training, such as podcasts, digital exhibitions, comic books, etc.
As a result, a new crop of innovative student projects is already on the horizon.
Did you have any memorable teachers? What made the learning experience come to life for you?
I can give you at least fifteen names! I have had the privilege of reading history with some of the tallest people in my academy in both Calcutta and Delhi, South Asia. They were all wonderfully educated, mold-breaking, immobile, and invigorating in their own way. But they all encouraged misunderstandings. They tried to equip all their students to think hard and not to think like their teachers. That’s all I can do. The primary task of a history teacher is to teach disagreements in a consensual climate.
What does the DTA Award mean to you?
He is very humble. I sincerely believe that what is recognized by the university is not my personal achievement, my wonderful colleagues have come together, practiced and completed it. I am lucky to own a place to work with them. Although much of the higher education sector has been controlled by metrics under the auspices of privatization research products, this recognition shifts our focus to the teaching process, which is shared, quote, discussion, dynamic and incomplete.