Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, History, Virginia Military Institute

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, University of Illinois / Chicago
Becoming "Xhosa:" German Missionary Linguists and How the Borderland Communities of the Eastern Cape Region of South Africa Became Part of the Xhosa Ethnolinguistic Group, 1830-1930

When the communities of the Eastern Cape first encountered European missionaries in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, they identified themselves as the Ngqika, Ndlambe, Gcaleka, Thembu, Mpondo and Mpondomise. However, toward the end of the nineteenth century, these communities began to speak of a Xhosa nation that gradually encompassed all these groups. I believe the development of a vernacular language (isiXhosa) for the purpose of Bible translation, and the conversion of isiXhosa-speakers to Christianity were crucial issues that drove the emergence of the Xhosa nation. The former issue may have had two key impulses. The first involved missionary efforts to identify local modes of verbal communication as the “Kaffir” language and develop its vocabulary, grammar and script. The second concerned translation of the Bible into this language and, most importantly, translating it into distinct “Xhosa-Kaffir” and “Zulu-Kaffir” scripts. This latter decision may have contributed to the bifurcation of “Kaffir” into separate isiXhosa and isiZulu languages, as well as its speakers into separate ethnolinguistic groups. The Xhosa Bible that resulted from these efforts gave African converts direct access to the “source of revelation,” as well as the “ur-narrative” of nationhood. As Adrian Hastings explains, “The Bible…presented in Israel…a developed model of what it means to be a nation….” (Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood, 1997). And as John Peel has remarked, “Human beings produce sociocultural form [e.g. identity] through an arch of memories, actions, and intentions. Narrative is the way in which that arch may be expressed, rehearsed, shared, and communicated….[And] the Bible provides the “great Ur narrative” for this kind of narrating” (Peel, “For Who Hath Despised the Day of Small Things? Missionary Narratives and Historical Anthropology,” 1995). Taking inspiration from the ideas of Hastings and Peel, I will determine the extent to which conversion to Christianity provided African converts a blueprint for developing a national identity, first circumscribed by linguistic efforts designed to publish the Bible in the vernacular.