Black British History |

Save the Black British History MA at Goldsmiths

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OPEN LETTER TO GOLDSMITHS TO SAVE ITS BLACK BRITISH HISTORY MA

8th March 2022

 

Dear Warden Frances Corner, Council and Senior Management Team at Goldsmiths,

Save the Black British History MA at Goldsmiths 

We, the convenors of What’s Happening in Black British History? at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, are writing to urge you to reconsider your plans that have placed at risk the Black British History MA and the jobs of its lecturers Dr. Christienna Fryar and Dr. Hannah Elias.

Like many people across the sector were delighted when the Black British History MA, the only taught course of its kind in the country, was launched at Goldsmiths in 2019, and saw it as an important contribution to addressing some of the problems outlined in the Royal Historical Society’s 2018 Race, Ethnicity and Equality Report. 

Offering the Black British History MA is clearly vital for:

  • Contributing to a proper understanding of British History
  • Enabling the next generation of university and school teachers to teach a subject they themselves were not taught at school or university
  • Improving the diversity of the student body
  • Forwarding the fight for racial justice

Indeed, the urgency and significance of this initiative have been powerfully set out in your own public statements over the last few years.

The removal of the Black British History MA is in direct opposition to Goldsmiths’ publicly stated goals on diversity and inclusion and aim to recruit a more diverse student body. You claim to be ‘passionate about advancing equality and celebrating diversity at Goldsmiths’ and that ‘these values are enshrined throughout our rich history, entrenched in the subject matter of our research and teaching, and embraced by members of our community.’ In 2019 you made commitments on racial justice, which included support for decolonising the curriculum and pledging to ring fence £20,000 a year for Black History events for Goldsmiths Students’ Union. In 2020, Warden Frances Corner made ‘a personal pledge to ‘work tirelessly to bring about change.’

When the MA was launched in 2019, Goldsmiths itself, and the former Head of History Dr. John Price made it clear they understood its value. In the press release Dr. John Price said: “The Department of History is absolutely committed to the exciting new MA in Black British History and to widening the fields of history that we teach at both postgraduate and undergraduate levels.

It is a quite extraordinary act of reputational harm that less than three years after you proudly announced that you had recruited Dr Christienna Fryar, a ‘leading academic on the history of emancipation, the British Empire, and the Caribbean’ to convene the course, with a permanent contract, her job is now at risk and she has been forced to reapply for it.

You have ignored protests over the last six months including a letter denouncing the move now signed by almost 5,000 academics, researchers and artists including Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo, former Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and leading historians of Black British History Professor David Olusoga, Professor Olivette Otele. Leading History organizations such as the Royal Historical Society and History UK have also spoken out against this move.

What’s Happening in Black British History? convened by Dr. Miranda Kaufmann, Michael Ohajuru and Professor Philip Murphy at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies has been promoting the study, discussion and dissemination of this vital subject since 2014, organising two major events a year. We have held events in London, Liverpool, Bristol, Huddersfield, Preston, Leicester, and hosted over 150 scholars, artists, writers and heritage professionals as speakers to over 600 attendees. The substantial national audience for our events and social media output shows the interest in and importance of the subject. We were commended for our work in the Royal Historical Society’s 2018 Race, Ethnicity and Equality Report.

We add our own voices to the growing chorus of individuals and organisations across the sector urging you to reconsider your approach. We fear that unless you are prepared to make a pledge to protect the Black British History MA, and to lift the threat of redundancy from Dr. Christienna Fryar and Dr. Hannah Elias the reputation of Goldsmiths will suffer immense damage, besides depriving young people of a currently unique opportunity to study this vital subject.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Miranda Kaufmann, Michael Ohajuru and Professor Philip Murphy

Convenors of What’s Happening in Black British History? at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Comments

  1. Robert Henry

    Please keep this valuable MA open and available so students can learn about the vital black history topic

    It would be very sad to close the degree programme.

    Thank you for reconsidering…

    Reply
  2. James Walvin

    This is a unique and invaluable course -which brings great credit to Goldsmiths. Its closure would reflect badly on the College and run counter to the College’s educational and public posture.
    James Walvin

    Reply
  3. Ra Hendricks

    I am able to understand my own personal history because of the committed scholarship engaged in academic courses such as this! It would be unfair to my granddaughter and grandsons to remove the possibility of them ever having the same opportunity! We have a duty to gather knowledge not only for ourselves but also for future generations!

    Reply
  4. Christian Hogsbjerg

    The MA in Black British History at Goldsmiths has to be defended, not least given the local multicultural community that Goldsmiths as an institution should be serving, but also because such a programme is still shockingly all too rare in Higher Education in Britain. In reality every British higher education institution should be offering such a MA, but to win this everywhere will require much more pressure from below to ‘decolonise the university’ – we need to keep up the fight – solidarity with all whose jobs are at risk and with all who are resisting the current takeover of Goldsmiths University by finance capital.

    Reply
  5. Professor Helen Hackett, UCL

    I’m writing in strong support of this letter. It is vital that the future of this valuable, innovative, and much-needed MA should be secured.

    Reply
  6. Hannah Dalton

    I cannot believe that such a monumental step forward in furthering Goldsmiths reputation is about to be damaged so quickly. I’ve recommended Goldsmiths to many students since learning about the MA because I thought it represented an attempt to start to decolonise the curriculum and address the previously ignored fields of study it represents. I sincerely hope you reconsider removing this program.

    Reply
  7. Anthony Kalume

    We have see a strong backlash on the academic field in regard to sch initiatives,engaging with the community practice creates strong bonds and WE WLL NEVER GIVE UP!!

    Reply
  8. Catherine Johnson

    This is a hugely important course, Black British history is all our history, the course should be cherished. Closing the degree program now would be retrograde and irresponsible.

    Reply
  9. Amy Smith

    Goldsmiths: please demonstrate that your dedication to racial justice is more than a PR move by saving and investing in this important course and its academics.

    Reply
  10. Barbara Ellis

    This a no brainer for Goldmith College which is in the centre of multicultural Newcroos. A college that was built on the use of black students over the last 40 years. Including myself. It should lead by example by continuing doing this course and focus it on the thousands of white teachers across the United Kingdom. Every school or academy should sponsor a teacher in its group of schools to attend then it would be oversubscribed. Newly qualified teachers have said and are saying they are not qualified to teacher this subject. Put it some modules on line and part as a face to face teaching.

    Reply
  11. Karin Merx MA

    A course like this should be a priority, not one to be dismissed. If you want people to learn about history than certainly Black History needs to be included. White washing history has been going on for way too long. This MA course will teach students about a rich history that cannot be denied. It prevents them from being programmed by limited horizons of the white perspectives.

    Reply
  12. Kirsty Rolfe

    This is a tremendously important and necessary course, and its loss would be devastating for the study of history both in the UK and internationally, as well as for Goldsmiths’ scholarly and pedagogical reputation. I urge Goldsmiths management to reconsider these cuts, which would be an act of unconscionable scholarly vandalism.

    Reply
  13. Liz Millman

    This course shows Goldsmith’s at the leading edge of addressing a major omission in the teaching of Black History in Britain. Warden Frances Corner, Council and Senior Management Team at Goldsmiths must reconsider your approach if you are to be true in any way to your pledge to advance equality and celebrate diversity at Goldsmiths as values enshrined throughout your rich history, and embraced by members of your community.

    Reply
  14. Rachel Elwes

    I’m writing in strong support of this letter. The future of this valuable, innovative, and much-needed MA should be secured.

    Reply
  15. Darren Gee MA

    I hope this course does end and its resources are diverted elsewhere, as this sort of course won’t equip any of its graduates with any worthwhile skills, resulting in a cynical mood toward Britain, its history, and the ongoing efforts of desegregation since the 1960s.

    Reply
  16. Natasha De Stefano

    Please keep this valuable MA open and available so students can learn about the vital black history topics on offer.

    It would be very sad to close the degree programme, and would be a step backwards in progress.

    Reply
  17. Harshad Keval

    It’s absolutely vital this course, it’s staff, and the crucial knowledge base it engages and teaches is protected, especially during these dangerous times. The parallel narratives of EDI / race equality, and these simultaneous harmful manoeuvres reflect problematic practices, and will have a negative effect on wider communities within and inside the organisation.

    Reply
  18. Pedro L V Welch

    I am a child of the African diaspora in the Anglophone Caribbean. My great-great-great-great grandfather was an enslaved man on a plantation in Barbados. As a descendant of the formerly enslaved, I recall that I was exposed to British history and knew nothing about the history of our ancestors. Later, I was exposed to the history of enslavement at my A’ Level College and subsequently matriculated at the University of the West Indies where I pursued
    courses in West Indian History as well as the History of the New World diaspora. My eventual journey to a professorship was birthed in such exposure. I do not consider it impertinent to say that the closure of the Goldsmith programme will be a serious disservice to the Afro-West Indian British population

    Reply
  19. Ted Tregear

    The plan to close the Black British History MA is so catastrophically misconceived that I’m speechless. I urge Goldsmiths to reconsider, urgently, before inflicting such a damaging and self-damaging blow.

    Reply
  20. Martin Spafford

    The history of this country and the world means that understanding Black British history is essential to understanding British history. Slowly, and under pressure from students and teachers, schools and exam boards are starting to address historic silences in this area and open up all our young people to a more diverse, inclusive history that recognises their place in our story. But this depends on students and teachers being equipped with knowledge to ensure the historically excluded do not remain silenced. The Goldsmiths MA course has been a hugely important step forward: to lose it would be a tragedy and align the university with those in power across the world who drown out uncomfortable truths and deny the experiences of those whose story disrupts their narrative.

    Reply
  21. Dr Ben Marsh

    I strongly support this letter and urge Goldsmiths to reconsider the move and reposition resource to sustain what should have been a flagship intellectual and social entreprise that is so vital to new generations of British students, historians and citizens.

    Reply
  22. David Hunter, Ph.D.

    I was glad to hear several years ago that Goldsmiths was establishing this unique MA programme. That it was needed both within and without the college was clear. When I guest lectured in 2013 to a Music Department audience I was told by a graduate student that I was the first scholar to bring up the issue of the use of the profits of slavery to further musical activity in Britain and its overseas colonies, and she was excited that I had. That sentiment has been repeated elsewhere. I hoped and imagined that the MA would encourage study and research in this area and others like it, thereby providing us with greater understanding not only of the past but also of our present predicaments around race, bigotry, history, gender, the arts, and the physical (including aural) survivals from the time of slavery. Greater understanding would guide policies and practices for the future. The MA programme must be retained so that students have the opportunity to explore these issues and advocate for solutions to problems.

    Reply
  23. D Cumming

    To say this is a disappointment is an understatement. The course is important on many levels, as others have so eloquently explained, and the message you are giving by cancelling it is similarly damaging on many levels. You have an opportunity to reverse your decision and maintain a course that leads the way in this country, an opportunity I hope you will take.

    Reply
  24. Pingback:Black History Conversations 11 March & Goldsmiths Black History MA Under Threat | History & Social Action News and Events

  25. Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina

    Not only was this a groundbreaking course, but the timing could not be worse. As recent events in Britain (and internationally) have shown, the importance of knowing this history is crucial. I add my voice to the many others who are calling for a reversal of this truly unfortunate decision.

    Reply
  26. Susanna Boyd

    This course is clearly essential at a time when we are finally getting black voices heard – why would you ever think of cancelling it? Surely it should be expanded if anything to ensure that black British presence is taught and celebrated, but also that the knowledge gained from this course can be used to support teachers in schools to celebrate black British stories.

    Reply
  27. Tiffany Florvil

    This program is invaluable in training a fabulous generation of Black British scholars who could diversify the professoriate and advance the field in important ways. It is a travesty to defund this program.

    Reply
  28. Eilidh Innes

    This course is essential. Black Britons have been airbrushed from history and need to be urgently put back into British history teaching. Black history is entwined with British history.

    Reply
  29. Susan Doran

    I am writing to give unreserved support to this letter, The innovative MA course at Goldsmiths should be celebrated not placed under threat. Black stories need to be told by scholars who are carrying out their own research. Their work, moreover, is especially important in a multi-cultural society.

    Reply
  30. Susan D Amussen

    It is hard to overstate the value of the Goldsmith’s MA, and the importance of studying Black British history. As someone who has studied the Black experience in the 17th century, research and teaching on the subject is vital to understanding the course of British history.

    Reply
  31. Durzo Blint

    Teaching the history the black British is as important as the history of any people in the world. Tragically it isn’t taught enough in the British education system and any course that gives people access to the history and the culture of the black British struggle is valuable for our understanding of the past and the future.

    Reply
    1. Dr Adom Philogene Heron (Goldsmiths, Anthropology Lecturer - Caribbeanist)

      I have worked at Goldsmiths for 5 years, the first permanent black member of staff in my Dept. (a colleague and alumni once informed me). I know Dr Fryar as a well respected colleague and value the work she and Dr Elias have put in to establish this much needed program. I recall the fanfare when it was launched. The demand and commitment to recruit a permanent member of staff to the post. I recall claims by our senior leadership in response to students’ anti racist occupation of college buildings, they would do transform the institution and make it more more inclusive. I recall statements made in June 2020, in response to police murders and the UK’s racial epiphany amidst BLM mobilisations and Colstons toppling.

      I urge the college to protect black, brown and women staff amidst this restructur. For our commitments to social equity and justice are most tested in times of hardship and turmoil.

      Reply
  32. Laura Swaffield

    It is astonishing that Goldsmiths would wish to discontinue this unique course, which has never been more timely or relevant. Apart from the intrinsic stupidity of the idea, it can only damage Goldsmiths’ reputation at all levels – particularly given the fulsome support the college rightly gave the course at its foundation. The “plan” appears to be the centrepiece of a whole suite of crass ideas that will save little money & do permanent harm to Goldsmiths academic standing & general reputation.

    Reply
  33. Kadija George

    Goldsmiths boldly led the way of showing what decolonising the curriculum means when they pioneered the MA in Black British History and the MA in Black British Literature. They are jewels in their crown and need to be treated in this manner.

    Reply
  34. Sasha

    Oh Goldsmiths. Do not squander this precious opportunity. If current world events are able to teach us anything, it is now more than ever we need to find ourselves standing on the right side of history. It looks like this might be your chance.

    Reply
  35. Kennetta Hammond Perry

    This programme is absolutely vital to the development of the field of Black British history in the UK. The institutional presence of Black British history is about so much more than expanding the content of the history curriculum at universities. It is also about creating necessary training grounds for future generations of scholars who are equipped to grapple with how race and racism continue to shape inequities in our society. Without these perspectives we are lost. I will also add that the manner in which this groundbreaking programme has been rendered disposable by Goldsmiths management after all of the diligent and careful work that has gone in to building this programme and executing a strong vision for its ability to flourish by Drs Christienna Fryar and Hannah Elias is a real indictment of the professed values of the institution.

    Reply
  36. Dr Katharine Edgar

    I find it extraordinary that such an important, respected and relevant MA should not be preserved. Please reconsider.

    Reply
  37. David Palfrey

    This is a unique MA programme. It responds to a scholarly need for training historians to understand Black British history more adequately, and it also responds to a public appetite for this knowledge. Its cancellation would be miserable and scandalous.

    Reply
  38. Sonya Dyer

    It is vitally important that this unique and very necessary MA course remains available. This field of study is so important in making Britain better known to itself – the next great insights into our history could arise from the students and staff working in this neglected area of our history.

    Reply
  39. Dorothea Smartt FRSL

    Please keep this vital and necessary MA. Please stand by your commitment to developing the scholarship so important to Britain having a fuller understanding of its past. Please reconsider!!!

    Reply
  40. Anna Maria Nabirye

    This course is vital and deserves the time and resources to grow. Goldsmiths should be leading the way for other courses to develop across the country not shuttng down this MA after 3 years, most of which was disrupted due to the pandemic.

    Reply
  41. Tessa Hosking MA

    It is shameful that the MA in Black British History, so late in coming, is now deemed expendable. Goldsmiths must lift the treat to this essential course and ensure its future.

    Reply
  42. Amy Buxton Jennings

    I cannot understand what arguments could be made to close this invaluable contribution to self determination for Black Britons. My brother and son have both been taught by these academics and it has been life changing. Please reconsider.

    Reply
  43. Shammi

    As Head of Humanities Faculty in a secondary school, I cannot express the urgency in educating teachers in this area. It is absolutely crucial if we are to educate our young people about history properly, this course is necessary in providing educators with the knowledge to do this. We will not see improvements in our schools if our universities do not provide broad and balanced courses to support the wider education.

    Reply
  44. Joanna Brown

    When it was introduced, the Goldsmiths MA in Black British History filled a significant gap in history teaching in Higher Education. The events of 2020 have demonstrated that the need for more informed teaching of our colonial and imperial past is pressing. Black students are woefully underrepresented in History departments, and we know that this is due in part to an outdated curriculum that too often excludes global perspectives, together with many structural inequities in academia. To remove the MA in Black British History at this crucial stage in the development of a decolonised curriculum would be a shamefully retrograde step.

    Reply
  45. Dr Chamion Caballero

    Absolutely mind-boggling that Goldsmiths should be putting this groundbreaking MA programme at risk via the threat of redundancy to the staff running it. It has been a crucial and important milestone and inspiration to others in addressing the omission of Black history in the teaching of British history. Goldsmiths were only too happy to celebrate and capitalise on these achievements at its launch. It is clear that there is a huge appetite among students, and the wider public, for knowledge in this area and the removal or downgrading of the course would be a shameful and retrograde step in the university’s supposed commitment to equality and inclusion. On behalf of The Mixed Museum, I strongly urge the university to reconsider their approach to the teaching staff and the programme as a whole.

    Reply
  46. Kitty Forrester

    My black friends and students have been woefuly underrepresented in history, courses like these have strated to redress the balance; why on earth would you scrap it now?!

    Reply
  47. Akiko Ichikawa

    Goldsmiths cannot afford to cut this course. It is abysmal that the U.K. has only one Black studies scholar–Kehinde Andrews at Birmingham City University. It is shortsighted, unfair, and will put the country behind in the humanities for some time. Now is not the time turn back the proverbial cultural clock. Please do the right thing.

    Reply
  48. Claire

    Absolute madness that this course is at risk. Black British History should be taught in all schools. If we are not taught Black British History, how can we acknowledge it. That’s where the problem lies. We cannot acknowledge something we know nothing about. Please keep this valuable course. We need more Black British History teachers!!

    Reply

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