Professor Deborah Posel, a research professor in the Departmentof Sociology at the University of the Free State and University of Cape Town (UCT) emeritus professor, reflects on the significant impact of Stuart Saunders on the humanities in South Africa.
The humanities in South Africa have lost an ardent, committed and influential champion. Stuart Saunders trained as a doctor and remained thoroughly immersed in the world of the health sciences. But he has also left an indelible imprint well beyond his own academic pursuits, and particularly in the burgeoning of interdisciplinary research in the humanities in recent decades.
He did so largely in his role as a senior adviser to the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, a position he took up in 2000. In the early years after South Africa’s transition, research in the humanities was funded largely by the National Research Foundation, and in the form of relatively small grants to individual researchers. There was relatively little scope to think big and imagine a bolder, more inclusive research canvas that created new modes of intellectual community, across disciplinary lines. It took donors like the Mellon Foundation, Tara Consultancy (as Atlantic Philanthropies was originally known) and the Carnegie Foundation to shift that, with the provision of large grants to fund visionary ideas.
“Stuart was an enthusiastic champion of the interdisciplinary project, and he took up the challenge of galvanising such work with gusto.”
Stuart was an enthusiastic champion of the interdisciplinary project, and he took up the challenge of galvanising such work with gusto. The Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), established in 2000, was one of the first in this vein, part-funded with a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation. There were many more, some already established and their funding significantly boosted by a Mellon grant, and others newly created on the strength of inaugural grants from the Mellon Foundation.
It’s a long list; here’s a small selection: the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (University of the Witwatersrand); Centre for Curating the Archive (UCT); the Humanities Unit (Rhodes University); Centre for Environmental Humanities (UCT); Centre for Humanities Research (University of the Western Cape); Institute for Creative Arts (UCT); Institute for Humanities in Africa (UCT); Human Economy Project (University of Pretoria); Trauma, Forgiveness and Reconciliation Studies programme (University of the Free State); and the Centre for Social Science Research (UCT).
“Stuart also oversaw a much more wide-ranging expansion in the quantity and range of graduate funding across the sweep of the humanities.”
Many of these grants included funding dedicated to the advancement of younger scholars and graduate students, particularly those previously disadvantaged. Stuart also oversaw a much more wide-ranging expansion in the quantity and range of graduate funding across the sweep of the humanities, and to many universities across the country. This contributed in no small measure to producing a new generation of black scholars in the humanities – one of the guiding imperatives of the Mellon Foundation at large.
Under Stuart’s watch, the Mellon Foundation also injected substantial sums into making JSTOR (the most widely used digital data base in the humanities) accessible to scholars and students on the African continent.
I had the pleasure of working with Stuart for nearly 20 years; he was a mentor and became a friend.
I will miss him dearly.
Research Professor, UFS
Emeritus Professor, UCT
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