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1 Introduction Revisiting the life and scholarship of Dorothea Bleek It is my wish that when a translation of the collection of my father and aunt is published, it is simply offered to the world, without comments or interpretations in whatsoever form.1 These words, penned in 1936 in a private letter to a friend in Switzerland, describe in a nutshell Dorothea Bleek’s intellectual project that was her life’s ambition. Dorothea devoted her life to completing the ‘bushman researches ’2 that her father and aunt had begun in the sitting room of their home in Mowbray, near Cape Town, in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. For Dorothea, her bushman research was partly a labour of familial loyalty to her father,Wilhelm, the acclaimed linguist and philologist of nineteenth -century Germany and later of the Cape Colony, and to her beloved aunt, Lucy Lloyd, a self-taught linguist and scholar of bushman languages and folklore. Dorothea’s research was also an expression of her commitment to a particular kind of scholarship and an intellectual milieu that saw her spending almost her entire adult life in the study of the people she called bushmen. From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, how has history treated Dorothea Bleek? Has she been recognised as a scholar in her own right, or as someone who merely followed in the footsteps of her famous father and aunt by taking their ‘bushman researches’ out of their Mowbray home and into the landscapes of southern Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century? Was she an adventurer, a woman who stepped out of her colonial comfort zone and travelled across southern Africa driven by intellectual curiosity to learn all she could about the bushmen? Was she conservative and Book 1.indb 1 10/12/15 10:57 AM D O R O T H E A B L E E K 2 racist, a researcher who belittled the people she studied and dismissed them as lazy and improvident? Or was she a scholar who believed staunchly in the importance of close observation, hands-on fieldwork and the collection of samples and evidence from the field? Did she make her own contribution to South African scholarship, or did she simply rewrite, repackage and publish the celebrated collection of folklore and ethnographic knowledge that was her family heritage? An examination of Dorothea’s papers and personal letters suggests that she was a mixture of all of these things. She was a complex and contradictory character who warrants greater recognition in South African history and in relation to the much studied Bleek-Lloyd collection of bushman folklore in which the documentary records of her life and scholarship are now preserved. This book examines Dorothea Bleek’s life story and family legacy, her rock art research and her fieldwork in southern Africa, and, in light of these, evaluates her scholarship and contribution to the history of ideas in South Africa. The narrative reveals an intellectual inheritance intertwined with the story of a woman’s life, and argues that Dorothea’s project of producing knowledge about bushmen was also an emotional quest and an expression of familial loyalty. The collection of private correspondence preserved among her papers suggests that Dorothea’s scholarship was motivated in part by her desire to honour the idealised father whom she barely knew, and to pay tribute to the aunt who had mentored her in the /Xam and !Kung languages and through whom she was able to access her intellectual inheritance . At the same time, Dorothea was concerned with a particular kind of scholarly inquiry in which language provided the key to understanding the ‘soul’ of a people, in her case the bushmen, who were seen as ‘natural’ and closest in evolutionary terms to the ‘original’ human. These intellectual and emotional strands woven together evolved into an archive that today bears the UNESCO designation Memory of the World, indicating its status as a documentary record of global importance that has been and still is consulted by historians, linguists, folklorists, anthropologists, archaeologists and rock art scholars, as well as the general public, from around the world. But Dorothea’s story begins some decades before she was born. Her father ,Wilhelm Bleek (himself the son of a scholar and professor of theology), had grown up and completed his studies during the golden age of philology Book 1.indb 2 10/12/15 10:57 AM 3 I N T R O D U C...


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