By Hannah Elias and Sundeep Lidher
In August 2020 the IHR and Runnymede Trust launch Teaching British Histories of Race, Migration and Empire: a resource for teachers and learners. The crowdsourced online guide, created by the IHR’s Library team, brings together recommendations for materials for the teaching of British histories of race, empire and migration, including the Black British experience — from Key Stages 1-3, GCSE to A-Level and university courses.
The online guide is part of the #TeachRaceMigrationEmpire campaign, led by The Runnymede Trust and supported by a range of organisations including the Institute of Historical Research. Here Hannah Elias and Sundeep Lidher, the campaign’s organisers, introduce the new guide in the context of the wider Runnymede campaign.
The heightened historical awareness of the contemporary moment emerges from a series of layered and entangled crises. Since the death of George Floyd, global Black Lives Matter protests against state violence, structural racism and white supremacy have prompted calls across the country, led overwhelmingly by young people, for a collective reckoning with Britain’s multi-racial past.
At the same time, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, which has amplified and exacerbated the racial disparities that continue to infect every corner of our society, has added urgency to the demands for better public understandings of the historic roots and contemporary structures of race inequality in Britain. The marginalisation, and often erasure, of British histories of race, empire and migration from our shared national history and memory are nowhere more pronounced, or more contested, than in the history lessons taught in many of our schools.
Engaging all young people in our classrooms with these broader British histories is fundamental to provide the next generation with a fuller, more accurate, understanding of Britain’s past. It is, after all, impossible to understand the nature of democracy, political representation, society, economics, and citizenship in Britain without understanding the local and global histories of race, migration and empire, which have shaped Britain’s institutions and communities.
Sadly, these topics have long been neglected as statutory, or even suggested, topics in the National Curriculum for history. These ongoing omissions, combined with the fact that fewer schools are required to follow the National Curriculum at all, mean that whether a child learns anything about Britain’s multi-racial, imperial and post-imperial past in history lessons depends entirely on individual schools and teachers. It is clear is that this ‘lottery’ of learning is insufficient and that both cultural and structural change is needed.
These deficiencies were recognised in The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report (1999) and Wendy Williams’ recent Windrush Lessons Learned Review (2020) into the UK Home Office’s handling of the Windrush scandal. The Windrush Lessons Learned Review recognised the need for better engagement with British histories of empire and migration in our schools, arguing that,
‘The Windrush scandal was in part able to happen because of the public’s and officials’ poor understanding of Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration, and the history of black Britons.’
In response to the urgent need to address these ongoing silences in the school history curriculum, the Runnymede Trust launched the #TeachRaceMigrationEmpire campaign in June 2020, in partnership with the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), the Royal Historical Society, the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre, Raphael Samuel History Centre and History Workshop Online.
The campaign — 7 Actions to Change the History Curriculum — combines guides to required activity, complete with downloadable template letters for MPs and school governors. It seeks to empower members of the public to call for longer-term curriculum reform while also highlighting insertion points in the current national curriculum where histories of race, empire and migration can immediately be included. Thanks to the support of learning institutions, community organisations, teachers, parents, and students of history, the campaign trended on Twitter.
As part of that campaign, we called on teachers, researchers and members of the public to submit links to existing resources that would be useful to share with students who want to learn, and teachers who want to teach, more about British histories of race, empire and migration, including the Black British experience.
Thanks to the support of the IHR’s Library team, this crowd-sourced list of links has now become a free permanent resource bank, hosted by the Institute, which aims to support teaching and learning at all levels, from Key Stage 1 to university.
The content of this new resource ranges widely in scope and type, with links to websites, podcasts, videos, books and archival collections on topics including the history of Black British Muslims; Jamaican bass culture in Britain; the South Asian presence in Britain; oral histories of the Windrush Generation; race and identity in the Tudor and Stuart era; the Jewish East End; diversity in Roman Britain; and lesson plans on the ‘Concept of Race’.
We encourage you to explore the resource and share it with others in your networks, especially teachers and young people. The resource bank is one that, we hope, will continue to grow. If you know of other materials that would be useful to add, whether a video, podcast, database, online research tool, or digital publication, please let us know. Submission can be made via our online form.
Dr Hannah Elias is Lecturer in Black British History at Goldsmiths, University of London
Sundeep Lidher is a historian and co-lead on the Runnymede Trust’s ‘Our Migration Story’ project.