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Archive for the ‘International’ Category

“A literary dance with science” – the Mail & Guardian reviews Christa Kuljian’s Darwin’s Hunch

The announcement of the Homo naledi hominid fossils by Professor Lee Berger in September 2015 at Maropeng outside Johannesburg dominated the news and headlines for months internationally. The public reaction to the find indicated a fascination in the search for human origins, and that the concept of race and human evolution are linked in many people’s minds.

Christa Kuljian traces the history of South African palaeoanthropology and genetics research in order to make sense of science and race in the quest to understand human origins. Over time, the nature of the search has shifted and changed. What are we looking for after all?

Darwin’s hunch in 1871 was that humans evolved in Africa, but very few European scientists agreed. Raymond Dart wrote in Nature in February 1925 that the Taung Child Skull supported Darwin’s theory. Dart believed he had found the “missing link” between apes and humans. Again, few scientists agreed.

Over the past century, the search for human origins has been shaped by the changing social and political context. Reflecting colonial thinking, Raymond Dart followed the practice in the US and Europe of collecting human remains and characterising human skeletons into racial types. He thought that there was a Bushman racial type that might provide a clue to human evolution. In 1936, he led a Wits University expedition to the Kalahari to study this imaginary racial type. One of the people he met and measured was a young woman named /Keri-/Keri. She died two years later. Her body was embalmed and taken to Wits University where her skeleton became part of the Raymond Dart Skeleton Collection. The book uncovers the sad story of what happened to her remains. In addition to /Keri-/Keri, Kuljian introduces us to a range of people who were in the shadows of the well-known scientists.

The book shows how Prime Minister Jan Smuts supported the search for human origins in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, how the concept of human evolution was opposed by the apartheid government, and how the post-1994 South African government and President Thabo Mbeki, with encouragement from Phillip Tobias, celebrated the fact that Africa is the Cradle of Humankind. Yet the search continues. In 1987, the publication of ‘Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution’ suggested that all living humans could trace their ancestry back to Africa 200,000 years ago. Many scientists and the general public in the West were slow to accept such a claim. Genetic research continues today, based not on fossils or skeletons, but on DNA samples. Kuljian examines current thinking and approaches to the ongoing search and explains why for much of the past century so many scientists were reluctant to accept Darwin’s Hunch.

Nigel Willis, a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal, recently reviewed Kuljian’s Alan Paton Award 2017 shortlisted book for the Mail & Guardian:

Charles Darwin speculated that the origins of modern human beings may be traced to Africa. It took more than a century of hard research, exploration and scientific endeavour for his hunch to be vindicated.

Written in a gripping account that reads like a detective novel, Christa Kuljian provides a history of this validation of Darwin’s “hunch”. Kuljian is a writing fellow at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research. She took her first degree in the history of science at Harvard University, where prominent among her tutors was the world-renowned paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould.

In addition to a master’s degree at Princeton, she has another from the University of the Witwatersrand in creative writing. Her superb academic training illuminates this book.

Kuljian deals insightfully with the interrelationship between politics and science, especially the science of paleontology. Politics and its kindred spirit, ideology, influenced not only the prevailing assumptions about human origins but also the ability of paleontologists to raise funds to enable them to undertake their research. Political support may result in direct grants from government, but also heightens general consciousness, facilitating generous donations from private foundations and other institutions.

Kuljian draws parallels and distinctions between Jan Smuts, statesman, all round academic and pre-apartheid prime minister, and post-apartheid president Thabo Mbeki. The intellectual curiosity of both was stimulated by the prospect that the origins of modern human beings may have begun in South Africa. Both thought that research in this regard would help to “put South Africa on the map”. Mbeki thought that it would give black South Africans a sense of self-pride. To this idea Smuts was impervious.

Under apartheid, the Nationalist government was indifferent, if not hostile, to the idea that “the cradle of humankind” may lie in South Africa. It was afraid of the effect science may have on the ideology of “difference” between and, correspondingly, the inherent “separateness” of races.

Apartheid prime minister and also an academic, Hendrik Verwoerd was afraid that science may implode his theory that, as the first white person came ashore at the Cape, the first black person crossed the Limpopo. In Verwoerdian ideology, South Africa, apart from a few politically irrelevant San and Khoi-Khoi, was a wilderness, awaiting possession by white people. Thus reasoned, there had been no colonial displacement of blacks.

Continue reading Judge Willis’s review here.
 

Darwin's Hunch

Book details


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Listen: AmaBookaBooka interview Christa Kuljian

In 1871, Darwin predicted that humans evolved in Africa. European scientists thought his claim astonishing and it took the better part of a century for Darwin to be proven correct. From Raymond Dart’s description of the Taung Child Skull in 1925 to Lee Berger’s announcement of Homo Naledi in 2015, South Africa has been the site of fossil discoveries that have led us to explore our understanding of human evolution.

Darwin’s Hunch reviews how the search for human origins has been shaped by a changing social and political context. The book engages with the concept of race, from the race typology of the 1920s and ’30s to the post-World War II concern with race, to the impact of apartheid and its demise. The book explores the scientific racism that often placed people in a hierarchy of race and treated them as objects to be measured.

In 1987, the publication of “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution” suggested that all living humans could trace their ancestry back to an African woman 200,000 years ago. Again, many scientists and the general public in the West were slow to accept such a claim.

Listen to author Christa Kuljian discuss her Alan Paton award shortlisted book, sharing her thoughts on revisiting science, and repeating Australopithecus Africanus 10 times in this recent AmaBookaBooka interview:

 

Book details


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Submissions for Dinaane Debut Fiction Award open

Jacana Media recently announced that submissions for the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award will open on the first of April.

Celebrating thirteen years of producing unparalleled South African literary talent, the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award is the perfect opportunity for any aspiring fiction writer to contribute to South African conversations.

Previous Dinaane winners include Andrew Miller (Dub Steps), Penny Busetto (The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself), Ashraf Kagee (Khalil’s Journey), James Clelland (Deeper Than Colour), Zinaid Meeran (Saracen at the Gates), Megan Voysey-Braig (Till We Can Keep an Animal), Kopano Matlwa (Coconut), Fred Khumalo (Bitches’ Brew), Gerald Kraak (Ice in the Lungs), and Ishtiyaq Shukri (The Silent Minaret). Tammy Baikie was the recipient of the award in 2016 for her novel, Selling LipService. The book will be published in May 2017.

Coverage aside, the overall winner will be awarded R35 000, be published by Jacana Media and join Exclusive Books’ Homebru campaign.

Submissions will be open from 1 April 2017 to 31 May 2017. Enquiries can be directed to awards@jacana.co.za.

Visit Jacana’s website for more information on the award.

Dub Steps

Book details

 

The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself

 
 

Khalil's Journey

 
 

Deeper Than Colour

 
 

Saracen at the Gates

 
 
 

Till We Can Keep An Animal

 
 

Coconut

 
 

Bitches' Brew

 
 

Ice in the Lungs

 
 
 

The Silent Minaret


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Want to learn how to write non-fiction? Join the Writing Masterclass with Christa Kuljian at Bridge Books

 

Join us for Jacana Media’s new series of Masterclasses for aspiring writers.

Christa Kuljian, author of Darwin’s Hunch and Sanctuary, will present the Masterclass at Bridge Books and share her insights on writing, non-fiction writing in particular.

Contact Bridge Books or visit bridgebooks.co.za for details.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 30 March 2017
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Bridge Books, 85 Commissioner Street, Johannesburg
  • Guest Speaker: Christa Kuljian
  • Cover charge: R150
  • (includes a copy of her book)

  • RSVP: info@bridgebooks.co.za, 079 708 4461,
    https://bridgebooks.co.za/

 
 
 

  • Darwin's HunchBook details
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  • Sanctuary

  • » read article

    Why we are losing the battle for our food system, why it matters, and how we can win it back: An Empty Plate by Tracy Ledger

    An Empty PlateJacana Media is proud to present An Empty Plate: Why we are losing the battle for our food system, why it matters, and how we can win it back by Tracy Ledger:

    Why is it that food prices are so high that millions of South African families go hungry, while the prices paid to farmers for that same food are so low that many cannot stay in business? Why are the people that produce our food – farmworkers – among the most insecure of all? Why do high levels of rural poverty persist while corporate profits in the food sector keep rising? How did a country with a constitutional right to food become a place where one in four children is so malnourished that they are classified as stunted?

    An Empty Plate analyses the state of the South African agri-food system. Ledger demonstrates how this system is perpetuating poverty, threatening land reform; entrenching inequality and tearing apart our social fabric. The book asks two crucial questions: how did we get to this point and how might we go about solving the problem.

    This is a story of money, of power, of unanticipated consequences, and of personal and social tragedy. But it is also a story of what is possible if we reimagine our society and build a new system on the foundation of solidarity and ethical food citizenship.

    About the author

    Tracy Ledger is a researcher in the field of economic development, with 25 years of research experience. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of the Witwatersrand and a Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Stellenbosch University. She is an agri-food activist, believing that a more equitable agri-food system is fundamental to building a more equitable society.

    Book details


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    Join Christa Kuljian and Ciraj Rassool at the launch of Darwin’s Hunch at The Book Lounge

    Invitation to the launch of Darwin's Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins

     
    Darwin's Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human OriginsJacana Media and The Book Lounge invite you to the launch of Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins by Christa Kuljian.

    Ian Tattersall, Curator emeritus, American Museum of Natural History, said of the book: “With its unsparing wealth of personal and historical detail, there’s nothing else like Darwin’s Hunch available.”

    Kuljian will be in conversation with professor, historian and author Ciraj Rassool.

    Don’t miss it!

    Event Details

    • Date: Tuesday, 29 November 2016
    • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
    • Venue: The Book Lounge
      71 Roeland St
      Cape Town | Map
    • Discussant: Ciraj Rassool
    • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine
    • RSVP: The Book Lounge, booklounge@gmail.com, 021 462 2425

    Book Details


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    ‘We are all Africans’ – Christa Kuljian launches Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins

    Ben Williams and Christa Kuljian

     

    Darwin's HunchWits researcher Christa Kuljian was at the Sandton Library recently to launch her new book: Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins.

    The book pays homage to the human evolution theorist Charles Darwin and other naturalists who came after him, such as Raymond Dart, an Australian, and Philip Tobias, an acclaimed South African anthropologist. Tobias was Dart’s colleague and successor at Wits University.

    “There’s a very rich history in this country,” Kuljian said.

    Readers

     

    Dart’s work had gone a long way in convincing the western world that humans had their origins in Africa, not Europe or Asia. But with it, incorrect assumptions travelled back to the west. The Killer Ape Theory was one such theory. This theory, now disproved, proposed aggression and anger also had a hand in moving the evolution of humans forward.

    In the 1980s, the thinking favoured by white supremacists was that different racial groups had evolved “separately” and at different paces.

    The work done by Tobias concluded that race was “a superficial concept”.

    Said Tobias: “The term ‘race’ … is heavily charged emotionally and politically and full of unsound and even dangerous meanings. It is in the name of race that millions of people have been murdered and millions of others are being held in degradation. That is why you cannot afford to remain ignorant about race.

    “We are all Africans,” he believed.

    White supremacism allowed for the exploitation of vulnerable racial groups that were treated as “specimens”, not humans, Kuljian said.

    Killing Bushmen merely for research purposes are some disturbing incidents Kuljian records in Darwin’s Hunch. Laws outlawing such atrocities had to be passed, Kuljian said.

    The crowd

     
    When asked what had been the most shocking behaviour of scientists in their quest for knowledge and their experiments, Kuljian said: “I don’t know if I can tell you that.”

    The details were in the book, she said.

    Darwin’s Hunch is Kuljian’s second book, her first being Sanctuary: How an Inner-city Church Spilled onto a Sidewalk, published in 2013. In writing Sanctuary, Kuljian said she had “spent a lot of time in the Joburg CBD writing about current events”, but with Darwin’s Hunch, the book took her into the archives, dealing with sometimes shocking stories of people who “weren’t alive any longer”.

    At the end of the question and answer session, Jacana Media, the publishers of the book, offered a prize giveaway for a trip to Maropeng.

    Christa KuljianChrista Kuljian

     

    Readers

     

    Lungile Sojini (@success_mail) tweeted live from the launch:

    Book details


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    A lifelong love affair with the natural world: The Big Cat Man: An Autobiography by Jonathan Scott

    Jonathan Scott understands the animals he photographs so well – it is as though he can see the world as they do.

    - David Attenborough

    The Big Cat ManIn The Big Cat Man: An Autobiography, BBC’s Big Cat Diary presenter Jonathan Scott reveals the fascinating – sometimes painful – story of his journey of becoming one of the world’s most respected wildlife presenters, writers and photographers:

    He published the book concurrently with Sacred Nature.

    From a childhood spent on the family farm in Berkshire to travelling 6 000 miles overland in Africa and starting a career as a wildlife artist and safari guide, Jonathan’s tale is that of a lifelong love affair with the natural world. And a fervent desire to see it nurtured and preserved.

    Beautifully illustrated with drawings and photographs by Jonathan and his wife Angie – herself an acclaimed wildlife photographer – this new autobiography is not only a gripping read but a thought-provoking one. It raises uncomfortable questions about the future of wildlife on a continent where the needs of the people sometimes can seem overwhelming. It will bring hope to those who have struggled with their own demons. But most of all, it is an inspiration to those determined to follow their dream, whatever it may be.

    You can’t make, buy or fake passion. And when it comes to big cats, Africa and wildlife, Jonathan has passion in buckets. Along with knowledge and a great love.

    - Chris Packham

    A cracking tale – and crackingly well told, with deftness, compassion and humour. From the man whose name is synonymous with big cats, this is the brutally honest and insightful story of a life lived to the full.

    - Mark Carwardine

    About the author

    Jonathan Scott is the author of 30 books, latterly co-written with his award-winning photographer wife Angela. His early works include The Marsh Lions (co-written with Brian Jackman), The Leopard’s Tale and The Great Migration; collaborations with Angie include Antarctica: Exploring a Fragile Eden, Mara-Serengeti: A Photographer’s Paradise, Stars of Big Cat Diary and immensely popular safari guides to East Africa’s animals and birds. In addition to working on Big Cat Diary and its spin-offs for 12 years, Jonathan has presented many other wildlife programmes for British and American television. He and Angie travel widely through Africa, Asia and Antarctica, hosting safari and photographic holidays, collecting material for their own work and revelling in their shared love of wildlife and wild places.

    Book details


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    Don’t miss the launch of Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins by Christa Kuljian

    Invitation to the launch of Darwin's Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins

     

    Darwin's Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human OriginsJacana Media, WiSER and the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Paleosciences invite you to the launch of Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins by Christa Kuljian.

    The event will take place at Wednesday, 2 November at 6 PM.

    See you there!

    About the book:

    In 1871, Darwin predicted that humans evolved in Africa. European scientists thought his claim astonishing and it took the better part of a century for Darwin to be proven correct. From Raymond Dart’s description of the Taung Child Skull in 1925 to Lee Berger’s announcement of Homo Naledi in 2015, South Africa has been the site of fossil discoveries that have led us to explore our understanding of human evolution.

    Darwin’s Hunch reviews how the search for human origins has been shaped by a changing social and political context. The book engages with the concept of race, from the race typology of the 1920s and ’30s to the post-World War II concern with race, to the impact of apartheid and its demise. The book explores the scientific racism that often placed people in a hierarchy of race and treated them as objects to be measured.

    In 1987, the publication of “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution” suggested that all living humans could trace their ancestry back to an African woman 200,000 years ago. Again, many scientists and the general public in the West were slow to accept such a claim.

    Event Details

    Book Details


    » read article

    Ronnie Kasrils’s Alan Paton Award-winning book The Unlikely Secret Agent published in French

    nullThe Unlikely Secret Agent

     
    Jacana Media is delighted to announce that The Unlikely Secret Agent by Ronnie Kasrils, recipient of the 2011 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award, has just been published in French by Mardaga Publishing.

    On hearing the news of the French edition, author Ronnie Kasrils had this to say: “I am particularly delighted that this book about an unsung heroine of South Africa’s national liberation struggle is appearing as a French-language publication.

    “The anti-fascist resistance in Europe during World War Two has resonances in this book about a daring young woman who was prepared to sacrifice her freedom to a just cause. I believe French-speaking people of all ages will be inspired by this Scots-born woman who grew up in South Africa and became the first female operative in the clandestine armed struggle under Nelson Mandela’s command.”

    Written after the death of his wife in 2009, The Unlikely Secret Agent tells the story of Eleanor Kasrils, one of the few white South African women to engage in armed struggle against the apartheid regime. A story written with humility and a pride that the reader can only share.

    Ronnie’s response to Eleanor’s sudden death last year at home in South Africa was to write this extraordinary book at breakneck speed. It is a love story, a historical document of great importance, and a terrific tale of a clandestine success.

    - Journalist and writer Victoria Brittain

    A poignant and beautiful book.

    - James McAuley, Washington Post

    This “little” book about an “ordinary” woman with the heart of a lioness confirms the truth that our freedom was not free. From its pages rings out another truth that among the outstanding heroines and heroes of the South African struggle were those who did not set out to perform heroic deeds. These are the heroic combatants for freedom like the Unlikely Secret Agent, Eleanor Kasrils, the subject of this engrossing “little book”, who did the equally “little” things without which victory over the apartheid regime would have been impossible.

    - Former President of the Republic of South Africa Thabo Mbeki

     
    Related stories:

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