Patricia Hayes

Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape
Nantes IAS
10 months

Research interests: African history and Gender Studies, Photographic Archives, Archives in southern Africa, and the Democratic Potential of Photography

Research Project

Photographs and the long inception of colonialism in southern Angola & northern Namibia, 1904-17

This research project explores how new modes of reading photographs might be able to connect us in unexpectedly rich ways with Africa’s more distant past, given that such images represent ‘temporal interjections into deep time.’ Most disciplines dealing with sub-Saharan Africa place emphasis on colonial and postcolonial periods, resulting in a foreshortening of centuries of history and an expansion of the more recent past. In this situation, is it possible to steal time as it were, reaching back into the more remote past, and can photographs help us do so? The research is focused on the borderland area between southern Angola and northern Namibia, a region that constituted a kind of antechamber of history, a threshold space that saw a longer inception of colonialism than most territories, and whose minutiae have been documented and remembered in particularly rich ways. While photographs offer a uniquely potent medium that bridges the gulf between contact and distance, and the emphasis is on the durability of things surfacing in photographs that come from the more distant past, this research also highlights the interpenetrations and lacunae of ‘sources’ whether oral, textual or visual, especially when coming from the same milieu.


Patricia Hayes is the National Research Foundation SARChI (South African Research Chairs Initiative) Chair in Visual History & Theory at the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape in South Africa. Educated in Zimbabwe, she completed her PhD in African history at the University of Cambridge, UK and has worked at the University of the Western Cape since 1995. Her PhD thesis concerned the colonisation of northern Namibia and southern Angola, which remains an active research field. She has taught and published in the fields of African history and gender studies, engaging closely with photographic archives and their methodological challenges to bridge the disciplinary divide between history and aesthetics. Further areas of research engagement include liberation archives in southern Africa, and the democratic potential of photography.