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.
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