'Jeremy Corbyn has recently proposed that British school children should be taught about the history of the realities of British imperialism and colonialism. This would include the history of people of colour as components of, and contributors to, the British nation-state – rather than simply as enslaved victims of it. As Corbyn rightly notes: “Black history is British history” – and hence its study should be part of the national curriculum, not segregated in a single month each year.
This is a welcome proposal because, as an academic who teaches modules on South Asian, imperial, colonial and global history, I face an uphill struggle at the start of each new academic year. Many of the undergraduates who greet me know virtually nothing about any of the subjects I teach.
These are students who are educated through a school history curriculum that focuses almost entirely on English political and religious history – with bits of 20th century European history thrown in. These are the bits with figures who can easily be cast as “evil” – Hitler or Stalin, for example. The students who I encounter know very little about Britain’s past, let alone Britain’s connections with the wider world or the history of the world outside Europe.
They therefore know practically nothing about empire and its legacies – including in Britain. The histories they have studied and texts they have read were virtually all about or by white men, so they also know nothing about the history of women or the histories of people of colour, either. This includes those who have played important roles in shaping Britain’s past.'
Read more: Why the curriculum must stop whitewashing the British empire - According to a Historian
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7 December 2017
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