Spotlight on Research: History Professor Examines AIDS Impact in South Africa

Posted: November 4, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Stephanie Hay

Ben Carton, associate professor in History and Art History, returned to Mason this semester after spending more than six months living and researching in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Carton has been implementing a memory project he created, Sinomlando (pronounced see-nome-landoh), which means “we have history,” as fulfillment to a Fulbright scholarship he earned in 2002.

In South Africa, Carton worked with counselors to record oral histories of children who are losing their parents, guardians, and mentors to AIDS. “Gone is the exciting period of democratic inclusion of greater opportunities for children to go to better schools and so on. From that position of hope [they have gone] to a position of growing despair, as productive people—parents with jobs and teachers, for instance—are killed by the hidden violence of AIDS,” he says.

Carton is examining the effect that the AIDS epidemic has had on a new, democratic, post-apartheid country. “Specifically, I’m looking at what kind of an impact this is having on children and their guardians, really the grandparents, who have to pick up the pieces and help to be leaders and nurturers.”

Another part of his work involved interviewing researchers and counselors who recorded testimony of South Africans who endured tumultuous change, some violent, that led to the country’s democracy. Carton’s research aims to ascertain a broad view of South Africa’s resilience and has contributed to his editing a book, with support from the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, called Oral History in Wounded Country.

Carton’s research continues as he completes an edited book, Being Zulu: Contesting Identities Past and Present, which is due to be published in late 2005. Carton has worked for four years on its 55 chapters and 16 essays written by 38 different scholars. He is also writing a book on his research on Zulu that incorporates race as a central theme.

Ben Carton in South Africa
Ben Carton (far left) with his son in South Africa.
Photo courtesy Ben Carton

The history professor has lived in Zululand “off-and-on” for more than 15 years, and he has traveled to more than 19 countries in South, East, and West Africa. He is the author of Blood from Your Children: The Colonial Origins of Generational Conflict in South Africa (2000).

Additionally, Carton is working with Phyllis Slade Martin, African American Studies associate director, on a web-based historical study of William Sheppard, an African American missionary and human rights advocate who became a major African arts collector. The study is supported by the Virginia Humanities Foundation.

Carton received his PhD from Yale University and specializes in Africa, colonial frontiers, and cultural and oral history.

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