Institute for Languages, Literature and Arts

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This was one of the original institutes of the Human Sciences Research Council, a autonimous institution founded by the South African government in 1969 to undertake research in the humanities in South Africa.

The Institute was the brainchild of P.J. Nienaber, a strong advocate of Afrikaans literature and a compulsive collector of Africana. As a chairman of the SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns ("SA Academy of Arts and Sciences") and a member of the HSRC board, he agitated to have an institute founded to collect material on the languages and arts of South Africa and to undertake research in these fields.

Documenting the arts

The playwright and academic P.G. du Plessis was apponted the first Director of the Institute, with Nienaber as the first Curator of the National Documentation Centre for Afrikaans Literature (He was later followed by Pirow Bekker, then Charles Malan). Three more Documentation Centres were gradually developed, namely the National Documentation Centre for Music (curator initially P.J. Nienaber, later J.P. Malan, the author of the SA Music Encyclopaedia, in his turn followed by Cosmo Hattingh, author of Graaff Reinet: a Cultural History), the National Documentation Centre for Art (curator Murray Schoonraad, followed by Liliana Daneel then Gerhard-Mark van der Waal) and National Documentation Centre for the Performing Arts (curator initially P.P.B. Breytenbach, former director of NTO and PACT, followed by Rinie Stead and later Temple Hauptfleisch, with Astrid Schwenke as archivist). There was also a research programme on sociolinguistics (headed by Karel Prinsloo) and a National Centre for Onomastics (headed by Peter Raper).

Research in the arts

Karel Prinsloo later followed Du Plessis as Director and shifted the Documentation Centres away from pure collection and archival work, to more active research. Thus the National Documentation Centre for the Performing Arts became the Centre for South African Theatre Research (CESAT) (directed by Temple Hauptfleisch), the National Documentation Centre for Afrikaans Literature became the Centre for South African Literatures (CENSAL) (directed by Charles Malan).


As the HSRC moved to a differently structured and more flexible organisation in the late 1980’s under the leadership of Johan Garbers, the Institute was broken up into a variety of focussed interdisciplinary projects, and its documentation centres disbanded and the materials moved to the State Archives in Pretoria.


Over the years the HSRC and the Institute spawned a number of linked institutions concerned with research and documentation in theatre and performance. See for example the National English Literary Museum (NELM) and the Nasionale Afrikaanse Letterkundige Museum en Navorsingsentrum ("National Afrikaans Literary Museum and Research Centre") (NALN).


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