As part of the activities to mark 100 years of existence of Makerere University, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHUSS) on 5th September 2019 launched a three-year research project aimed at rethinking and reshaping the role of Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences in Uganda and the entire African Continent.
The project titled, “Historicizing the Humanities at Makerere University since 1922 (Humanities@Mak100)” is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It will be based on three thematic areas namely; The Basis of Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences, Patterns and Trends of Humanities Knowledge Production, and The Disciplines and Public Engagement.
The Principal of CHUSS, Dr Josephine Ahikire is the Principal Investigator on the project. Dr Byaruhanga Rukooko from the School of Liberal and Performing Arts, CHUSS heads the research team investigating the basis of humanities and humanistic social sciences, Prof. Grace Bantebya from the School of Women and Gender Studies heads the team researching the patterns and trends of humanities knowledge production where as Prof. Dominic Dipio heads the team re-examining the humanities disciplines with regard to public engagement.
The project intends to historicize the life of humanities at Makerere University since 1922 underscoring the significance and challenges over time. In particular, the project will trace and re-examine the development of humanities at the University since the introduction of History in 1946. Since then, the humanities have been at the heart of Makerere University but also pioneering knowledge production on the continent especially in literary and political science scholarship. The project contends that despite this rich history, no attempts have been made to critically historicize and interrogate the past and current positionality of the disciplines of Humanities and Humanistic Social Sciences at Makerere University.
Therefore, the research project aims to rethink and reshape the role of humanities in Uganda and re-examine the basis and significance of humanities and humanistic social sciences at Makerere University from a historical perspective. In this regard, the project will reflect critically on the current role and significance of these disciplines in society in order to shape their future trends in Uganda and East Africa.
Prof. Kiyimba keynote address
During the launch ceremony held in the University Main Hall, Prof. Abasi Kiyimba from the Department of Literature delivered a keynote address titled, “Digesting the Past to Survive the Future: Re-thinking the position of the Humanities in Makerere University”. In his presentation, Prof. Kiyimba extensively explained the role and relevance of human sciences and why the Human and Natural scientists need to work in tandem. “The current argument pitying the humanities and social sciences is a big misunderstanding, and can be very misleading. Each of these disciplines has its place in the human scheme of things. If the natural sciences are the physical body, the Humanities and Social Sciences are the ultimate soul of the human society,” he explained.
Prof. Kiyimba also briefed participants on the evolution of humanities at Makerere University.
“The originators of the Makerere idea never intended it to be an inclusive science-humanities institution, and the literature suggests that the first overtures to the introduction of these disciplines were looked with disdain, like you would look at a trespasser. Four factors stand out clearly as helping to accelerate the early intrusion of the humanities into the decidedly science-based curriculum at the foundation of the institution. These included the campaign by some within the colonial establishment for a more balanced education, the need to grow the Christian empire, the need to expose the native to British civilization and history and the desire to introduce courses favorable for female students,” he noted.
Prof. Kiyimba expressed concern over threats to the Humanities and Social Sciences disciplines and called for agency in articulating their contribution to public policy development.
“It is clear that while the Humanities and Social Sciences are under pressure the world over, their story at Makerere has been one of a strenuous struggle for survival; and it is far from over. It is thus necessary for Universities and stakeholders to develop dynamic new ways of invigorating them, to provide a vision that would enable them to survive the future,” he advised.
In his remarks, the representative of the Vice Chancellor, Dr Vincent Sembatya commended CHUSS for its efforts and contribution towards raising the University research profile. Highlighting their contribution to national development, Dr Sembatya appreciated the support rendered by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation towards strengthening the humanities and social sciences disciplines at Makerere University. “The efforts of humanities and social sciences towards transforming this country are part of the wider efforts of the entire University. Natural sciences cannot work in isolation. The good innovations developed by scientists may hit a deadlock if the humanities are not incorporated to conceptualize and interpret them for the public,” he noted. Dr Sembatya is the Director, Quality Assurance at Makerere University.
The Deputy Director, Research and Graduate Training at Makerere University, Dr. David Owiny applauded CHUSS for the “renewed vigor” in research and public debate. “The interest in CHUSS has greatly increased. Currently there are many PhD applications coming to CHUSS. This is as a result of the good works exhibited by the College,” he noted.
In her remarks, Dr Ahikire said the research project would greatly contribute to regaining agency in defining the humanities and their critical role in shaping the world. She noted that the project would help redefine and improve the humanities curriculum. She appreciated the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the support towards the project and other training and research activities of the CHUSS.
The research project will largely contribute to reshaping and strengthening the contribution of the Humanities at Makerere University and the country at large. It will also reignite public debate on matters of national concern.
The launch ceremony was graced by Uganda's Ambassador to India, H.E Grace Akello.
See below Prof. Kiyimba’s keynote address and details about the research themes