Carolyn Hamilton was born in Johannesburg. She attended high school at Parktown Convent: the order of the Holy Family, where she was converted from certainty to uncertainty. In the 1980s she completed a thesis on power and authority in the Zulu kingdom under Shaka, from which she emerged deeply uncertain about the nature of the sources available. She spent the next ten years of her research life probing the complex entanglements in which those sources were involved, publishing a book on the topic, Terrific majesty: the powers of Shaka Zulu and the limits of invention (Harvard University Press) in 1998. The book was an attempt to understand the complex interplay of public, political, and academic discourses and practices that, over time, shaped and were shaped by the sources used in the original enquiry about the Zulu kingdom. It was her opening move in what is a yet ongoing enquiry into the making of the archive of pre-industrial southern Africa. By now uncertain about both the concepts of archive and public which increasingly undergirded the quest for new ways to grapple with “sources,” she pursued them, first through the Constitution of Public Intellectual Life Research Project (initially published in 2009 and 2010 in two special symposia of the journal, Social Dynamics) and its ongoing successor form, the Public Life of Ideas Network, the Refiguring the Archive (2002) exercise, and its ongoing successor, the current Research Initiative in Archive and Public Culture. She hopes sometime shortly to feel sure enough about what has happened to “the sources” to launch into public life a revised version of the original thesis from the 1980s which yet remain unpublished.
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