Carolyn Hamilton
Carolyn Hamilton

In this episode of AnthroTalking we interview Carolyn Hamilton who describes herself as an anthro-historian. In the podcast she explains what the work of an anthro-historian entails, how her work aims to critically unpack the concept of ‘the archive’, the methods of an anthro-historian and the questions that arise when thinking about the archive.

Now a Professor at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Carolyn Hamilton began her academic career by researching power and authority in the Zulu kingdom under Shaka. It was this research that set in motion a reorientation of her studies and she began to look specifically at the archive and archival practices. Her book Terrific Majesty: The Powers of Shaka Zulu and the Limits of Invention (Harvard University Press) was published in 1998. Carolyn also holds a National Research Foundation Research Chair in Archive and Public Culture.

Carolyn talks about key themes of her work such as the relationship between archives and ancestor practices, and her concepts of the archive's ‘backstory’ and its ‘biography’. Her research on archives asks questions about the many different ways of dealing with the past but also emphasises the role archives play in present public life. This is reflected in current research projects Carolyn is working on at the Archive & Public Culture Research Initiative; the 500 Year Archive Project and the Archival Platform in Cape Town.

Published on:

March 25, 2015

Created by:

Kinga Jankus and Kelsey Oldbury


archive, anthro-history, anthropology, South Africa, Zulu, Carolyn Hamilton

Further information:


  • Hamilton, Carolyn 2011. Biography, and the Life of the James Stuart Archive. History of Africa, Vol 38, pp. 319-341.
  • Stoler, Ann, L. 2009. Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton University Press.

Cite as:

Jankus, Kinga and Oldbury, Kelsey “Carolyn Hamilton on Archives and Anthro-History” AnthroTalking: Podcasts at Stockholm University’s Department of Social Anthropology. online March 25, 2015,


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