This study approaches the field of military history with approaches to the study of sound in order to interrogate the concept of war that underpins military historiography as a disciplinary formation. It delineates the notion of the phonographic attitude with which to think about the ways in which technology, war, and the senses coalesce in broader historical writing about war, colonialism, and apartheid in South Africa. In so doing, it suggests that an attention to what it calls the warring motifs is necessary if a reorientation of a reading of war and apartheid away from a politics of deadness is to be achieved. It does so through a methodological approach that attends to various objects in South African historiography that may be attended to differently through an emphasis on the sensorial. These include the state-sponsored Walkman bomb that killed ANC lawyer Bheki Mlangeni, a record produced by artist Roger Lucey in memory of the death of activist Lungile Tabalaza, the supposed whistle or shout that led the indigenous Khoikhoi to victory over the Portuguese in 1510, a lithographic print by William Kentridge named after a radio programme for troops engaged in South Africa’s border war, the bell of sunken troopship SS Mendi, and the first recording of the hymn ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika’ by intellectual and key figure in a history of nationalism in South Africa, Sol T Plaatje.
Dr Aidan Erasmus