In Small World, David Lodge’s novel about academic conferences and pretensions, the hero, Persse McGarrigle, impresses a publisher by proposing to write a book on the subject of the influence of T.S. Eliot on William Shakespeare. Since Shakespeare died hundreds of years before Eliot was born, his subject is on the face of it absurd. However, as the hero explains, his point is that modern audiences cannot engage with Shakespeare as if in total ignorance of the subsequent history of English literature, including, obviously, the work of T.S. Eliot.1 This is a nice conceit and points to a fundamental truism. People’s views of the past are greatly influenced by the times in which they live. As the world constantly changes, historians will never ever be out of business since they can rely on a virtually limitless demand to reinterpret the past in the light of current events. The point has particular relevance to the interpretation of the rise and fall of apartheid, as it seems inevitable that perceptions of apartheid in this century will be fundamentally shaped by South Africa’s political development during the course of the next decades.
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- Conclusion: Taking the Long View on Apartheid’s Demise
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