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Masterclass Kathryn Smith (Stellenbosch University): ‘From Colonial Archive to Story: Critical Fabulation as (Art) Historical Method’

In the past decades, scholars of colonialism have come to acknowledge as well as challenge the limitations of colonial archives for studying the lives of colonised, enslaved, and marginalized people. How do we balance between recognizing colonial archival violence and destruction on the one hand, while trying to uncover, research, and acknowledge the lives of colonised people, using that same archive? In her groundbreaking work, Saidiya Hartman (2007) embraces this tension by emphasizing the need for an awareness of archival violence and limitations, as well as using an approach that goes beyond this, using imagination and narrative fiction in combination with history to re-present enslaved lives. Hartman’s proposed method of ‘critical fabulation’ urges historians to use artistic interventions in their historical research, writing histories “with and against the archive”.

In this masterclass, interdisciplinary professor in Visual Arts Kathryn Smith (Stellenbosch University) together with Dutch (PhD and ReMA) students will explore the potential of the intersection of art and historical research for re-presenting and re-imagining the lives of marginalized people living under colonial rule. Smith is specialized in forensic facial imagining, and her hybrid practice brings art and applied science together through twinned interests in re-mediation and the curatorial, directed at a critical interrogation of knowledge systems. She created the exhibition Fugitives together with her PhD student Pearl Mamathuba and historian Karl Bergemann. Together they combined the detailed physical descriptions in newspaper ads of fugitive slaves with forensic skills to bring to life enslaved who lived and laboured in the Cape Colony of the early 19th century. We are very pleased that this exhibit ‘Fugitive’ is currently on display at Radboud University, which offers Dutch junior and senior scholars to listen to a public lecture by Kathryn about her critically fabulated work for ‘Fugitive’ and the Sutherland Reburial project, and afterwards offer attendants a small guided tour to the exhibition on display at Radboud.

Provisional programme

  • 10.15 – 10.30 Coffee & Welcome (MM 03.110)
  • 10.30 – 12.30 Masterclass (5 students)
  • 12.30 – 13.30 Lunch break @ Grand Café De Iris
  • 13.30 – 15.30 Masterclass (5 students)
  • 16.00 – 17.00 Public lecture prof. Kathryn Smith (MM 00.029)
  • 17.00 – 18.00 Drinks & Visit exhibition  (Erasmusbuilding)

Assignments and assessment

In preparation for the masterclass, participants will read the prescribed literature (TBA), watch a short documentary about the exhibition (, and write a think piece of 1000-1500 words in which they reflect on the potential of critical fabulation as a (art) historical method in their own research. Participants should hand in their think piece no later than the 16th of April. In addition, participants are required to read the think pieces of all fellow participants.


Please register via the form below. Note that there are 10 places available : 5 for members of the Huizinga Institute and 5 for members of NICA. PhDs and RMAs from other research schools will be placed on the waiting list, and will receive note when a spot becomes available. Since places are so limited, we ask you to only apply if you are certain that you are able to join.


Marie Keulen (Radboud University) and Dries Lyna (Radboud University)

Register (0/10 spaces left)

This course is fully booked. For a spot on the waiting list, contact