Original Research - Special Collection: Social Memory Studies

Schreiner family narratives: Written and oral sources in biographical research

Graham A. Dominy
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 78, No 3 | a7693 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i3.7693 | © 2022 Graham A. Dominy | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 April 2022 | Published: 19 December 2022

About the author(s)

Graham A. Dominy, Department of History, College of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


This article reflects on the research required in biographical studies. The biographical focus is on the role of three generations of the Schreiner family: W.P. Schreiner (one-time Prime Minister of the Cape Colony), Justice O.D. Schreiner (judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court) and Professor G.D.L. Schreiner (scientist, academic, liberal and early conceptualiser of alternative models to apartheid). All three were involved in developing, defending and sustaining liberal policies and values in South Africa from the late 19th century until the advent of democracy in 1994. The clarifications and contradictions within and between oral and written sources are examined, and individual cases are discussed in which they are highlighted. The research sources include family papers, official archives, publications and, crucially, oral testimony. The oral testimony includes formal and informal interviews. This study is a contribution to the history of a family, a university and a set of values. It covers a long period in South African history during which colonialism tightened into apartheid, resistance developed and the eventual vision of a democratic South Africa came to fruition.

Contribution: The primary scientific contribution is the exploration of liberal policies and values in South African political and academic history through the prism of biography. Methodologically, the article discusses possible shortcomings with oral testimony when relied on as a sole source and examines how oral evidence can be utilised in conjunction with research based on archival and published sources to develop a fuller and more nuanced picture in biographical research.


biography; Buthelezi; constitutions; liberalism; oral history; research techniques; Schreiner; South Africa; universities


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