Original Research

Historical inquiry: Overcoming interdisciplinary methodological challenges in health sciences

Gisela H. van Rensburg, Johanna M. Esterhuizen
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 19, No 1 | a1325 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v19i1.1325 | © 2023 Gisela H. van Rensburg, Johanna M. Esterhuizen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 07 January 2023 | Published: 24 August 2023

About the author(s)

Gisela H. van Rensburg, Department of Health Studies, Faculty of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Johanna M. Esterhuizen, Department of Health Studies, Faculty of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Historical inquiry is seldom used in South African nursing research and South African historians seldom conduct research into the historical contributions nurses made in South African healthcare, specifically the nursing discipline. In this article, the authors discuss the challenges of conducting historical inquiry within a South African nursing (health sciences) context and from nurses’ perspectives. Several challenges relating to the compilation of the research report were identified, as the traditional nursing research format differs from the typical historical inquiry format. The authors explain how critical realism philosophy influenced the research objectives and deepened their understanding of historical inquiry as a research methodology and thus assisting them in gaining new insight into historical events in South African nursing and guiding the writing of the historical narrative. The authors concluded that an interdisciplinary approach to research that allows for flexibility in report writing is recommended to contribute to the historical inquiry of discipline-specific histories. Such flexibility encourages fresh viewpoints and insights into historical inquiry as a research method.

Transdisciplinary contribution: This article illustrates how historical inquiry as a methodology, informed by critical realism philosophy, was applied in the health sciences field of research.


critical realism; health sciences; historical inquiry; nursing history philosophy; research methodology; social studies; South Africa.

JEL Codes

I23: Higher Education • Research Institutions

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 4: Quality education


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