Archive Fever, part 1: Translation and its Failures

Like many legal historians, I spend a good chunk of my life reading court records—and it’s one my favorite parts of my job.  I love it so much that I make my students do it too, even undergraduates!  I regularly teach a seminar in which I give students a volume of records from a customary court from early twentieth-century South Africa.    In the rest of this post, I’ll talk more about how I think about court records as a source.  Tomorrow, I’ll describe in more detail how I guide students to work with them; and next week, I’ll come back to highlight some of my favorite archival finds that might be interesting to those researching or teaching legal history elsewhere in Africa, or even beyond the continent.Reading through court records is a pretty good introduction to the process of writing African history in particular.  Court records are an attractive source for historians of colonial Africa, even those with no…

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