<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> RHYS ISAAC <p> <b>Toward Ethnographic History</b> <p> <i>Figures in the Landscape, Action in the Texts</i> <p> <p> "Stop the car, I see a hand axe!" my twin brother called out. Glynn was only fourteen, but—already in the grip of antiquity—he would continually scan the roadside gravels for traces of the stone-age past. We identical twins shared this orientation as we shared everything. But we had divided it between us: he would be an archaeologist, and I would be a historian. Glynn Isaac indeed became—as his 1985 London <i>Times</i> obituary declared—one of the greatest palaeoanthropologists of the twentieth century. <p> We two identical twins had been born in 1937 in Cape Town, South Africa. "Born at the Cape of Good Hope," I always declare. Indeed we were given a precious gift that few can have: we took our first steps in the world each with an absolute equal at his side. Our wise parents had resolutely withheld the information as to which of us was born first. Growing up as inseparable siblings was especially fortunate given that we were small in stature; anyone who took on one took on two. Our parents never had much property but lived as professional scientists off their stock of learning; and yet we twins were distinctly privileged, since we were males. There was also great privilege in the fact that we and our much younger sister were all children of the white race. There was, however, alienation and exile lurking in our circumstances since we would come of age in a South Africa where severe penalties awaited any person who resisted the apartheid regime of racial segregation. We twins left the country at age twenty-one; and our parents and sister emigrated soon after. <p> But my story has got ahead of itself. Soon after our birth, the world was in the grip of the Second World War, so our Welsh-born father was prevented until peace came from taking his South African wife and twin sons back to meet his own family in Britain. We could only make that exciting trip in 1947, and there in "the Old Country" we eager little boys saw great castles and cathedrals; our imaginations were stirred—the past became the foreign country we were drawn to travel in for the rest of our lives. I know also that there, unconsciously, I learned about how much more there is to any peopled landscape than meets the eye of the stranger. Our father's family was Welsh-speaking Welsh to the core. ("Isaac" is originally a baptismal given name; it thus became a patronymic—"ap Isaac"— and then, under Anglicizing pressure, it was converted to a surname.) On car rides through South Wales with John Isaac, our grandfather, we sensed indeed an insider's understanding of his own country. He was a self-taught scholar of Welsh traditions—the poetry of the bards, the singing, and the eloquent preaching in the dissenting chapels. At every turn of the winding roads, there were for our grandfather not just the slag heaps of coal mines with rows of miners' houses squeezed in beside them but the places where had been heard the lyric words of some "famous poet," or the mighty voice of a "noted preacher." There were comic stories also—the better to fix all this in impressionable young minds. <p> Thus when we were nine years old we had begun our matching careers in pursuit of the past. Once home in South Africa, books became our resource for pursuing what can now be seen as our vocations from childhood. Glynn pored over J. H. Breasted's <i>Brief History of Ancient Times</i> (still a very fat volume although edited and abridged by Hugh Jones), while I assiduously read Wilhelm Hedrick Van Loon's <i>Lives</i>, and Will Durant's <i>Age of Faith</i>. Writers of popular histories are frequently sneered at, but I wonder how often their work has encouraged young beginners like me. With Van Loon I dined in the company of great persons of the past, starting with his countryman, Desiderius Erasmus; with Will Durant I learned so much more about the building of those great castles and cathedrals. In time—Glynn leading the way—we began to decolonize ourselves: we came to appreciate that the significant past is not an Old Country monopoly. Glynn turned to local archaeology with its lineages of hand axes and so took first steps in what became a life-long quest for the African origins of distinctively human behavior. I learned to focus on the landscape before me and to imagine the stories of its peopling. <p> In the high school from which we matriculated, the A-stream was science. We went along with that and did not study history. This was fortunate, since the pure physics course put us under the spell of Arthur Jayes, a teacher who really challenged his students. I think we both were fortunate in that; certainly Glynn was, when, working at one to two million years ago, he needed all the natural science he could muster. Meanwhile history for me was being in a high-school senior's literary club where students presented papers. Mine was on medieval bestiaries, since, with my father's encouragement, I was then resolved to be a historian of science. <p> After high school we entered employment for half a year to pay for a ship voyage to take us back to spend the other half of the year exploring the Old Country on our own. The two weeks on shipboard as independent young men was certainly a way to get a new view of the world. We traveled with a Spanish dance troupe that had completed a tour of South Africa; they seemed to live their lives as vividly, extravagantly off stage as on. I think we were both in love with Sylvia, as with total fascination we watched her wild flirtations—although not extended to us schoolboys. We were, however, befriended by various older persons, intrigued by these bright young identical twins discovering the world. An old lady at our table took us under her wing, and her niece was to us at once half an admired belle and half a much older sister. There was an aging drunk also at our table, who had us call him "uncle"; he alarmed the old lady by his lugubrious zeal to share raunchy confidences. <p> We saw another as-yet-unimagined world during the ship's stopover in the anchorage off Las Palmas, on the Spanish Grand Canary Island. Churches adorned with gold reliquaries, candlesticks, and statues stood in every little plaza and the giant cathedral topped them all in the wealth of its display. Poor women in black and vendors of every description crowded the streets and alleyways. On the steep mountainsides out of town, desperately impoverished peasants carried earth in baskets to keep viable the vineyards that were their livelihood. Here was a kind of visible history in the form of a very oppressive old-world hierarchy in contrast with the colonial racial hierarchy with which we had grown up. <p> There were soon to be more encounters with history. Already in 1947 we had seen bomb-devastated areas of central London and heard stories of the Blitz; now we found that the widowed Welsh aunt whose home was our home whenever we were in London, had remarried to an Austrian Jewish widower. He had escaped the fate of the rest of his family by being in London when the war broke out. On the wall hung a visibly patched portrait of his grandmother; we learned that an SS man had ground it under his heel when the family was dragged from their home to death in the gas chambers. Richard Barkeley (originally Baumgarten) was a historian himself, by then employed in the university extension programs of the Workers' Education Association. And, since there was at this time a demand for fluent German speakers who could interpret British institutions to the defeated and eager-to-learn former enemy, he also made frequent lecture tours to Germany. Uncle Richard was one of the most warm and loving men we boys had ever met; himself childless, he was delighted to "adopt" us and to further our beginning steps into the world of learning. <p> Once in Britain, Glynn participated in a number of summer-season archaeological excavations; I enrolled in a National Trust field school on riverbank ecology, conducted at John Constable's Dedham Mill in Essex. This was memorable as my first experience of being in a coeducational class! I also did solo walking trips through romantic landscapes. Once I was able to join Glynn for a hitchhiking tour of the Salisbury plains, seeing with awe such great wonders of the Neolithic past as Stonehenge and Avebury Circle. As winter came on, we both settled in London to do university extension classes—Glynn in archaeology, I in medieval history. (I then thought—as somewhere inside me I still do—that the history of the Middle Ages was the most 'really real' of all! Indeed, I like to tell myself and others that I am still a kind of medievalist, because the American Revolution was the true end of the Middle Ages!) <p> <p> * * * <p> <p> At the start of 1956, we made the two-week return voyage home, just in time to enroll at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Glynn was doing the Bachelor of Science program he needed to prepare for research into the early fossil records of the human past; he majored in geology and zoology, with a minor in archaeology in the Arts Faculty. I had my weight on the other foot; I majored in history with enough science courses to be able to complete a Bachelor of Science degree a year after my Bachelor of Arts was done; thus I planned to be prepared to engage in the history of science. Along the way I found, however, that straight history grabbed me as nothing else. The introduction—History I—was Western Civ. Dr. Jean van der Poel took us from the kingdoms of Egypt to the end of the Middle Ages. I wrote a first essay on Charlemagne's Europe, with my father's copy of Bryce's <i>Holy Roman Empire</i> open on the desk while Beethoven's Emperor Concerto, played over and over through the frequent interruptions of changing the scratched set of 78-rpm bakelite disks on an old wind-up phonograph. In the second half of that first year Professor J. H. Mandelbrote covered the period from the Renaissance and the Reformation to the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. <p> There were no electives in that entire three-year course, run as it was by a department of five, four of whom had their research specialties in South African history. The second year—History II—was entirely conducted by Mr. Leonard Thompson (later a professor of African History, at UCLA and then Yale). In the first half we studied Imperial Expansion. We began our study with the Portuguese explorers and made our way through the rise and fall of European overseas empires to the end of the British Raj in India. At last we came to the recently proclaimed "winds of change" in Africa. In that first half-year we were given some of the framework for world history; but what really fired me up was the second half of the course—South African history. Having done the overview of empires, Leonard Thompson taught us the history of our own land as a story of settler invasions, repulses, and the slow creation of a colonial society formed by the inclusion of for-the-moment conquered peoples. <p> The year was now 1957; the world was in flux. The independent republics of India and Pakistan were nearly ten years old; the Gold Coast Colony in West Africa had just become the State of Ghana, a republic under the presidency of Kwame Nkruma. The rapidly changing times called forth a new historiographic ethic in that course. If I were to speculate about its sources, I would guess that the recent grim revelations of racism run riot in the Holocaust on the one hand and the positive affirmations of the United Nations' Declaration of Universal Human Right on the other hand had unsettled the old white man's historiography. Be that as it may, our forward-looking teacher fostered a strong consciousness of the histories of empire and settlement as two-sided—no longer to be told as the admirable triumph of the self-declared 'civilizing' settlers. The scarcity at that time of books and articles that presented the past in this way should have made me conscious of what a new start in historiography we were involved in. I have Leonard Thompson to thank that when I came to write colonial history myself, I took the inclusive approach as a standard in all that I did. I would strive for an everybody history with full attention to the female as well as the male, the young as well as the old, and the black as well as the white. <p> At the same time another form of attachment was happening that worked to give my twin and me a distinctive orientation to landscape. We had become adventurers to wild places. As members of the UCT Mountain and Ski Club we found ourselves among kindred spirits, young women and men with zest for life. With them we made expeditions to the mountain peaks and crag-bound high valleys in the sandstone ranges that form the southwestern and southern scarp of the great dry land mass of southern-Africa. Those ranges beckoned us daily from our terraced varsity campus up on the eastern side of Table Mountain; later when we both saw how our published work revealed a distinctive landscape orientation, we knew one of the sources from whence it came. <p> Glynn was coming to know the geological origins of that rugged landscape; I was fascinated with the history of its peopling. I was reading the eighteenth-century travelers—Carl Peter Thunberg, William J. Burchell, and others—all of whom published reports of their voyaging by way of contributing to the Enlightenment description of the world and everything in it. Above all there was C. W. de Kiewiet's <i>History of South Africa: Social and Economic</i>, which, for all its textbook title, was a compelling account of conflicts in a vividly evoked landscape. I still treasure its characterization of the dispersed settlement of the seminomadic "free-burger" pastoralists. Seeking to escape the constraints of the colonial government in Cape Town, they scattered wide over the dry plains of the interior, with each man fleeing the tyranny of his neighbor's smoke. I did not say to myself that one day I would write history in matching terms—after all I was going to be a historian of science, was I not? But when I had myself written a history of colonial Virginia very explicitly set in its landscape, I could identify De Kiewiet's very distinct influence. <p> There had been earlier impressions that also emerged in the histories I would write of Europeans and Africans in Virginia. In 1946 we twins saw a different world to the old seaport of Cape Town and its mountainous hinterland; we went plant collecting with our botanist mother on a 600-mile camping trip to her home country in the east, where she had been born and raised. Her parents had been Scottish settlers in King Williams Town in the heart of British Kaffraria, an area then only recently annexed to the Cape Colony after fierce wars with Nelson Mandela's warrior ancestors, the Xhosa nation. Here was quite another landscape—steep-sided river valleys and the scattered dwellings of the Bapedi, Amaxhosa, and Pondo peoples. These cattle-herding farming horticulturalist peoples had very distinctive settlements made up of round thatched, wattle-and-toward daub huts dispersed all over the hillsides. Later in our childhood we lived for four crucial years in Grahamstown, an old garrison settlement on the edge of this world. There the sounds of Africa coming from the township and from the backyard of our house entered my psyche. When History II came to the clash of the Dutch-derived pastoralists and these densely settled warlike occupiers of all this land—the era of the so-called Kaffir Wars—I had an experiential, landscape-situated reference for the histories in the books. I had also the benefit of conversation with an expert in the cultural differences involved. Monica Wilson, professor of anthropology and distinguished ethnographer of old African traditions and changing ways among the by-then conquered peoples of the Eastern Cape, was a dear friend of the family. She was a very encouraging mentor to both my brother and to me. Later, when I aspired to play anthropologist to the past, her quiet wisdom was an important part of my inspiration. <p> In Grahamstown also, my twin and I—offspring of agnostic parents but with very pious Calvinist grandparents—were suddenly inducted into Anglican piety. We were put into a remarkable small boarding school that also taught us strong forms of self-reliance. I knew the value of this schooling when I found myself interpreting the contests between the Church of England as established in Virginia and the insurgent Separate Baptists who prepared the ground for an enduring evangelical hegemony in the Bible Belt South. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Becoming Historians</b> Copyright © 2009 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.