Repeating Until We Can Remember: Difficult (Public) Knowledge in South Africa


  • H James Garrett
  • Sandra Schmidt


As part of the ongoing conversations in curriculum theory regarding difficult knowledge, representations of historical trauma, and public pedagogy, the authors of this paper draw from their experiences on an educational trip to South Africa.  The paper begins by exploring the nature of trauma and the relationship between public displays and private understandings.  The authors provide narratives of their experiences in two Apartheid museums, ones that are uncommon in their attempts to disrupt dominant narratives of progress, and subsequently use these narratives consider how the distinction between past and present collapses in the spaces of encounters with traumatic representations.  Finally, the consequences of such theorization are articulated in terms of the need to reconsider the purposes of educational lessons that rest on such encounters away from learning history to prevent the repetition of past events and toward an understanding of that repetition itself.

Author Biographies

H James Garrett

H. James (Jim) Garrett is Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education at the University of Georgia, Athens, GA.  His work draws from psychoanalytic and critical theories. He can be contacted at: 

Sandra Schmidt

Sandra J. Schmidt is Assistant Professor of Social Studies Education and Teachers College, Columbia University, NY. Her work draws from critical social theory in geography, queer theory and postcolonial lenses. She can be contacted at:






Cultural Studies and Curriculum