October marks Black History Month in Britain. While this observance originated in 1920s America, only in the last few years has it become a more prominent feature of Britain’s annual calendar. In a recent article, The Guardian recognised that Black History Month is as an opportunity to ‘battle a sense of historical amnesia’ and ‘counter the invisibility of black people and to challenge the negative stereotypes’ so often depicted in the media. We also see it as a way to demonstrate our commitment to the wider diversity agenda across the school, particularly in the light of this summer’s #BlackLivesMatter campaigns. The passion sparked by this movement across our virtual classrooms last summer was undeniable as discussions turned to the questions of diversity and equality. The humility and openness with which our students tackled these issues were truly remarkable. Indeed, as a department, we are committed to ensuring that our curriculum recognises these themes not just in October, but across the year.
Throughout the Autumn Term, our Upper Fourths here at King’s study the topic of ‘Enslaved Africans’ in the context of the transatlantic trade, this topic has been taught under the title of ‘Slavery’ in thousands of classrooms across the country for decades. This year, along with many schools in the country, we have been working hard to change the focus in order to rehumanise the narrative and emphasise that captured Africans were human beings with a culture of their own. Our aim is to enable students to recognise that the history of transatlantic slavery is much deeper than solely explaining how enslaved Africans were treated and feeling sorry for them: a ‘poor them’ account does not empower black culture. Enslaved Africans actively resisted their captors and asserted themselves against plantation owners – they were active in fighting for their own freedom.
This is a theme that the History Department is committed to tackling. We are looking for opportunities to ensure that our curriculum delivers a rich tapestry of cultures across the world; from Worcester itself to the Song Dynasty in China, from the Empire of Mali to the Revolutions in Europe. We seek to address the complex relationships between cultures across the world and place Britain within its global context. While we recognise this will not be an overnight change, we welcome any suggestions from the King’s Community of ways in which we could build upon our already flourishing programme of study.