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Preface The notebooks and associated papers collected in the 1870s and beyond by Lucy Lloyd and Wilhelm Bleek are inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register. Since 1997, the Bleek Collection has been recognised as a documentary heritage of international significance. The landmark 1991 conference in Cape Town, the proceedings of which were published as Voices from the Past: /Xam Bushmen and the Bleek and Lloyd Collection, edited by Janette Deacon and Thomas Dowson, introduced an era of sustained cross-disciplinary interest in this unique collection of material that is most often described as ethnographic. Many academic and popular books, exhibitions and performances have since been created using the Bleek Collection and the interactions between Bleek, Lloyd and their prisoner interlocutors as reference and inspiration. But my engagement with the collection pre-dated all that. It began in the early 1990s, when, as a reporter for one of Cape Town’s daily newspapers, I interviewed Pippa Skotnes about her critically acclaimed art book Sound from the Thinking Strings. In that work, Pippa explored the final years of /Xam life and paid homage to the words of //Kabbo and to bushman cosmology through a series of etchings drawn from rock art motifs. The artworks were presented alongside contributions from Pippa’s colleagues at the University of Cape Town (UCT), including poetry by Stephen Watson that drew on the /Xam notebooks and essays by archaeologist John Parkington and historian Nigel Penn. I did not know then that my interest in the collection and the drama of its making would keep me busy for many years.While working on my MPhil at UCT in the early 2000s, I researched the story of Otto Hartung Spohr and discovered how his dedicated detective work and roots in pre-World War II Germany and Eastern Europe had played out in his study of German librarians at the Cape and of German Africana, and in his writings on the life of Wilhelm Bleek. While employed as a librarian at UCT, Spohr travelled to archives in­ Germany in the 1960s and crossed the Iron Curtain while on the trail of Book 1.indb 7 10/12/15 10:57 AM D O R O T H E A B L E E K viii material pertaining to Wilhelm Bleek. His obsession, described as‘some sort of madness’, added much of the personal detail now taken for granted in the Bleek Collection, including the courtship letters between Wilhelm and his future wife, Jemima. As I read his correspondence, it became clear to me that Spohr’s interest in Wilhelm Bleek was as much emotional as it was professional. The empathy he felt towards Wilhelm Bleek, combined with a profound nostalgia for the Eastern Europe he had been forced to flee in the 1930s, leapt out at me as I read his letters. I began to realise how much Spohr’s personal quest and his passion were embedded in a collection of documents that are now often mined for other reasons. This realisation led me to the person of Dorothea Bleek. Why had so little been said or written about her? Why was she the one labelled as ‘racist’ while Lucy and Wilhelm were celebrated as liberal thinkers ahead of their time? Was there nothing more that could be said about Dorothea’s life? Of the five Bleek daughters, Dorothea alone continued with her father and Lucy’s bushman work. If it had not been for Dorothea’s continued interest in bushman studies, her years of working alongside Lucy and her inheritance of the materials originated in Mowbray that have been a rich resource of creativity and intellectual labour for decades, the Bleek and Lloyd collection as we know it today may never have come into being. I was intrigued by the silence around Dorothea. So began my journey through her archive, a journey that found me at times frustrated by her seeming lack of openness to new ideas, and at other times impressed by her determination to go into the field and see for herself. I began by reading Dorothea’s 32 field notebooks in the Bleek Collection. Apart from two brief diaries recorded on early trips, much of the material in those pages is incomplete, ranging from vocabulary and grammar samples to fragmentary narratives that deal with topics ranging randomly from the weather to the names of stars to children dying of smallpox to snippets of genealogical and historical material, and including many blank or nearly...


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