‘The best way to understand a country’s history is through the lives of its people’ – Watch a video interview with Bill Nasson on Illuminating Lives
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What can ordinary people – colonial administrators, activists, educationists, athletes, a poet, a painter and a pilot – tell us about our collective history?
This is one of the central questions historians Bill Nasson and Vivian Bickford-Smith sought to explore in their collection of biographical essays, Illuminating Lives: Biographies of Fascinating People from South African History.
In an interview on Morning Live, Nasson says that since the 1970s, he and Bickford-Smith have been thinking of putting together a collection of essays about ordinary people, captured by writers who could ‘craft a story of their lives and show the kind of worlds they lived in, and tell us something about their individual humanity’.
Nasson says the idea comes from an English historian called George Young.
‘He said the best way to understand a country’s history is through the lives of its individual people,’ Nasson explains, ‘because what matters in history is not necessarily what happened in the past but how people felt about it, how they experienced it, how they handled their lives, how they handled difficulties and how they faced up to choices. These are all stories of tremendously resilient people.’
Watch the interview: