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Change the world


The National Research Foundation (NRF) has awarded Nelson Mandela University’s Professor Rose Boswell a new SARChI Research Chair in Ocean Cultures and Heritage.

The University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Internationalisation, Dr Thandi Mgwebi, received confirmation of the accolade earlier this week (20 October 2020).

“The awarding of this Chair to Nelson Mandela University comes at an opportune time when the world through the United Nations, notes the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021–2030 with the tagline ’the science we need for the ocean we want’.

“This Chair’s work resonates with the initiatives supported in the Decade – those that contribute to sustainability of the ocean and also in building partnerships with all stakeholders involved. The uniqueness in the Chair’s work is the focus on the influence of humans on ocean sustainability and oceans management, bringing an often disregarded approach in oceans research,” said Dr Mgwebi.

She said the transdisciplinary nature of the Chair would certainly offer added value and impetus to the growing transdisciplinary approaches within the university, providing opportunities for students in natural, human and social sciences.

“We congratulate Professor Boswell on this achievement. A Tier 1 Chair is a 15-year commitment by the DSI-NRF reviewed every five years. We look forward to the first five years of the Chair and a successful road ahead.”

In making the award, the NRF noted that Mandela University already had Chairs within oceans and coastal sciences, but none with a focus in the humanities. The new transdisciplinary Chair will be based on the Ocean Sciences Campus and support work that crosses and bridges the gap between the sciences and humanities.

For Prof Boswell, the former Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University, it is an opportunity to revitalise the humanities, which is one of the University’s strategic priorities, in a field that is traditionally focused on the natural sciences.

The anthropologist, NRF-rated researcher and poet is currently Professor of Ocean Cultures and Heritage at the University’s Ocean Sciences Campus.

Prof Boswell said she hoped that the new Chair would contribute to the strategic area of growing the Mandela University footprint on the African continent.

“Much of the research that has been done is focused elsewhere in continental Europe and also in Asia,” Prof Boswell said.

“In addition to wanting to emphasise Africa, I'm also keen to expand the role of the humanities in the oceans economy. Although the focus is often on the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities have a lot to say to policymakers and corporate funders in this field,” she said.

“If the humanities can be given a voice in that space, and there can be more transdisciplinary work, our graduate students can really contribute to Government’s Operation Phakisa.”

International collaborations

She hopes the Chair will expand knowledge of the maritime sector in Africa as well as enable the University to pursue regional and global collaborations.

In addition to her extensive academic credentials, Prof Boswell has also established an international network of colleagues, which the NRF panel referred to.

“Prof Boswell is recognised internationally by various colleagues and by her involvement in international research collaborations,” the NRF report said.

“Prof Boswell’s evident competency in her field of anthropology is recognised, and the application of this discipline to the focus area of Oceans’ Cultures and Heritage. Her ability to envisage this research project chair with numerous collaborative alliances and a number of interlinked sites with colleagues is also seen as a strength.”

These connections will be key to the new research drive of a greater role of the Humanities within the Oceans and Coastal Sciences, Prof Boswell believes.

“Working with global partners is very important because it expands the network of students and colleagues that you have access to. It also assists in advancing our cognitive understanding,” Prof Boswell said.

Her collaborative work includes serving as a co-investigator in the One Ocean Hub (an international programme for collaborative research for development based in the UK), on the committee for the Intercontinental Slavery Museum in Mauritius and a research programme leader in the Community of Practice, Oceans Account Framework project funded by NRF and led by Prof Patrick Vrancken at Nelson Mandela University. 

Prof Boswell also contributes to the global educational work of the Seychelles Blue Economy Institute and the work of UNESCO in its regional expert consultation series on racism and discrimination.

‘Great scientific merit’

The NRF highlighted the significance of the work ahead.

“The proposed research is of great scientific merit given that Oceans Culture and Heritage is a pioneering area.  Ethnography is brought to bear on sensitive and important subjects that touch on the environment, humanity, the sea as well as human relations and resource utilisation,” the review panel noted.

Contact information
Prof Rose Boswell
Research Chair in Ocean Cultures and Heritage