Black British History |

WHBBH3 Report


What’s Happening in Black British History? III

The third ‘What’s Happening in Black British History?’ workshop (WHBBH3) took place in Senate House, University of London, on Thursday, 29 October 2015.

The series overall aims to foster a creative dialogue between researchers, educationalists (mainstream and supplementary), archivists and curators, and policy makers. It seeks to identify and promote innovative new research into the history of people of African origin or descent in the UK. The third workshop was designed primarily to explore different approaches to teaching Black British History and how to foster a greater interest in the field.

As with previous workshops WHBBH3 received very positive feedback in the evaluation forms: ‘enjoyable and enlightening’, ‘a most stimulating day’, and ‘the blend of vocational, academic and community learning is enriching’.

The opening keynote address was delivered by Eric Huntley, a pioneering political and social activist and radical book publisher, whose life’s work is currently being celebrated at the critically acclaimed No Colour Bar Black British Art in Action 1960 -1990 exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Eric read from his memoirs, and then went on to discuss the setting up of Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications and Bookshop in the 1960s, painting an insightful picture of the dynamic African-Caribbean community in London at that time. His address was warmly received by the audience and set the tone for the discussions to follow.

The remainder of the day was divided into three panels. The first sought to challenge the conventional narratives. Catherine Johnson discussed how to engage young readers through fiction. Ryan Hanley moved beyond the careworn themes of slavery and abolition to showcase the great variety of voices within eighteenth-century Black British writing, and David Killingray concluded with a critical assessment of the current state of Black British historical scholarship (which you can read here).

The second panel focused on teaching Black British History. Martin Spafford reported the exciting news that, from this September, migration will be offered as a topic on OCR and AQA GCSE courses. Dema Wonga of Narrative Eye and the Justice2History team both gave us insights into their experiences of communicating Black British History in the classroom.

The final panel examined ‘New Perspectives on the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries’. Jeffrey Green gave us some vignettes from his research into Black Victorians. Jan Marsh gave a curatorial perspective from her experiences of working with Black British portraits. Advolly Richmond recast the Reverend Thomas Birch Freeman, more usually known for his missionary work, as a pioneering botanist.

The day closed with a reflective plenary session. Overall, WHBBH3 showcased exciting new developments in research, particularly in the arenas of teaching and education. The event was well attended by individuals with a wide range of knowledge and interests, and generated a great deal of lively discussion. It was clear from the debate that there are many more aspects of Black British History still to be researched, and plenty more questions to answer.

Do you have something to contribute? Send us a proposal for WHBBH4!

Missed it? You can watch the whole day’s proceedings on YouTube.

The next workshop will be held in Bristol on the 7th April. We look forward to seeing you there!


Dr Catherine Gilbert

Centre for Postcolonial Studies

School of Advanced Study, University of London


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