Aesthetic Education: A South-North Dialogue

The Jackman Humanities Institute has embarked on a four-year collaborative venture with the Centre for Humanities Research (CHR) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in South Africa, centred on the theme "Aesthetic Education: A South-North Dialogue" and generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The collaborative project will fund conferences, workshops and exchanges of faculty and students engaged in Humanities research between Toronto and UWC.

The University of the Western Cape is a historically non-white university that played a central role in the anti-apartheid struggle. It was at UWC that activists gathered in the years between the release of Nelson Mandela and the first democratic elections in order to design the new South African constitution, a model for the rest of the world. UWC is now the home of the Mayibuye archives, the most important trove of anti-apartheid documents in the world.

The Centre for Humanities Research at UWC plays a central role in developing new strategies for the Humanities in South Africa and in Africa more generally. It hosts an annual Winter School where scholars exchange ideas about the need for the Humanities in Africa. Over the past year it explored in a series of talks and conferences the questions of what is a university for and what should an African university be. These questions have recently assumed an urgency as students protests at South African universities demand decolonization. The CHR hosts the Dullah Omar Flagship Program in the Critical Humanities in Africa, which is home to a community of fellows including Masters and Doctoral students, postdocs, and next generation scholars.

Central to the CHR’s understanding of the Humanities is “creative practice-based academic research” – the notion that art can be an instrument of social, political and philosophical enquiry able to yield results beyond those allowed by traditional discursive theoretical approaches to knowledge and understanding. The CHR sponsors a Factory of the Arts, where musicians, painters, puppet makers, photographers, and filmmakers have the space and the resources to work and where they can work together in original collaborations. This cross-fertilization of researchers and artists extends to the non-credit courses offered at the CHR, where photography and film are taught by having students become makers. Aesthetic education is not just a question of theory but is informed by and tested out by artistic practice. The arts are essential to develop and challenge ideas.

The CHR also emphasizes bringing ideas to and learning from the local townships, in particular the community centre in nearby Athlone. The South African university cannot remain apart but must be in dialogue with the community. But that is no less true of the university everywhere.

The emphases on artistic practice and on dialogue with the local community are things that we at the University of Toronto can learn from the CHR. The intention of the South-North collaboration between the two Humanities Centres is to extend the dialogues that the CHR already fosters between scholars and artists and between the university and the local community to include a dialogue across hemispheres and between nations. Cultural differences and economic inequalities pose an enormous challenge to thinking and working, perhaps especially in the area of aesthetics. How objects, words, and images circulate, how they are received, and how they are valued are determined by cultural systems and access to capital, including symbolic and cultural capital. The North/South divide, often so great that it threatens any effort to share what matters most to us, is also the necessary condition for the kinds of meaning we most value. Any intellectual work in the area of aesthetic production needs to keep cultural difference and economic inequality in focus if it is to be effective, relevant and meaningful.

The project has five sections, areas in which we will explore the potential for collaboration between faculty and students at Toronto and UWC:

Director: Neil ten Kortenaar
Coordinator: Melissa Levin

JHI-Mellon Early Career and Graduate Fellows, 2018-2019 

Each year, Aesthetic Education: A South-North Dialogue selects senior graduate students and junior faculty members who will travel to South Africa to perform their own research, and who will be affiliated with one of the sectors of Aesthetic Education.  In turn, faculty members and graduate students from the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape travel to Toronto to do research at the University of Toronto.

JHI-Mellon Early Career Faculty Fellows, 2018-2019

Jordache Ellapen head shot
Jordache Ellapen, UTM Department of Historical Studies
Sara Saljoughi head shot
Sara Saljoughi, UTSC Department of English










JHI-Mellon Graduate Fellows, 2018-2019

Christine Turner head shot
Christine Turner, Ph.D. candidate, English


Julia Galmiche head shot
Julia Galmiche, Ph.D. student, French







Alison MacAulay head shot
Alison MacAulay, Ph.D. student, History






Winter School 2016 x3

Winter School:  The The Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape offers an annual one-week theory Winter School in July for graduate students.  The University of Toronto JHI-Mellon Graduate Fellows have participated in this event each year since 2016.