Henry Trotter in front of Yale stained glass windows

Yale University's Sterling Memorial Library I am currently enrolled as a graduate student at Yale University in the History Ph.D. program. I concentrate on African history with a more particular focus on modern South African history.

When I am finished with graduate school, I plan to become a professor of African history at the university level. I have known for many years that I would one day become an educator, though I must say, the journey is taking some time.

This past year, I have been conducting dissertation research on the history of twentieth-century port culture in South Africa. This has involved much time in the harbors, in dockside night clubs, in the archives, and on ships. I have another year of research to go before I start writing it up. That may take another year or two.

My research has thus far been divided between two major projects: contemporary port culture and post-apartheid memory.

Contemporary Port Culture

My dissertation, Port Culture: A Modern History of South African Sailors, Stevedores, and Sugar-Girls, concerns twentieth century dockside culture. I seek to understand the monumental changes that have occurred in the maritime world, especially during the 1960s and '70s. Port cities used to have whole economies that were based on the presence of sailors. Prostitutes, barkeepers, club owners, smugglers, and evangelists relied on the steady stream of sailors. Today, those dockside interactions are gone. The presence of sailors is essentially minimal and unnoticed.

I focus on three South African ports: Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth. But the 'anchor' of this study is Cape Town, as it the oldest port in the country and the one that I am most familiar with through travel, research, and marriage ties.

Many of the changes that destroyed port culture were technological, economic, and bureaucratic. Globalization restructured maritime relationships in a total way. The long heritage of dockside interaction became obsolete. I saw this first-hand as I traveled for two months by cargo ship from Los Angeles to Cape Town in the summer of 2003.

I also had the chance to see how contemporary travelers experience shipboard life aboard a modern cruise ship. I sailed for 5 days on the MSC Melody, an Italian ship which alternates between the Mediterranean and Southern Africa during the north/south summers.

Post-Apartheid Memory

I started looking into post-apartheid memory in 1999 when I was in the MA African Studies program at Yale. During the program, I spent a year in Cape Town as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar doing research on the impact of apartheid-era forced removals on the Cape coloured community. I interviewed over 100 victims of Group Areas evictions. My research resulted in a 330 page thesis called Removals and Remembrance: Commemorating Community in Coloured Cape Town. I returned to Cape Town in 2003-2004 to conduct further research on the removals' impact on African communities. I am currently revising this manuscript for (hopeful) publication.

The thesis has expanded since I first wrote it, taking in a more complete picture of the impact of forced removals on Cape Town's black communities. With those revisions in mind, I hope my study can offer a comparative example for other scholars who research similar matters.