A Black History Resource Guide: steps towards decolonising the library

Annie Price and Nandini Chatterjee
University of Exeter

Annie Price is Common Ground Project Archivist, Special Collections, University of Exeter, and Nandini Chatterjee is Associate Professor in History, also at Exeter, and co-Chair of the History Decolonising Working Group. They chatted about the valuable new Special Collections resource, a Black History Resource Guide, which Annie has created.

Nandini: Hello Annie, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me about Decolonising the library and archives and your engagement with it. Will you please tell me a bit about yourself – your education and your work?

Annie: Hello! It’s a pleasure, thank you very much for inviting me to talk with you. I’m Annie and I currently work as a project archivist at the University of Exeter Special Collections, which is part of the University Library. I didn’t always want to be an archivist or even know what an archivist was! History was the subject I most enjoyed at school, so I studied for a degree in History and German at the University of Liverpool. I became interested in the heritage sector and, following graduation, I volunteered and worked in several archive repositories and museums in England and Germany, gaining valuable experience in caring for archives as well as engaging with the public. I then returned to the University of Liverpool to qualify as an archivist, graduating with an MA in Archives and Records Management.

Since joining the small and friendly team at the University of Exeter Special Collections, I have worked on projects to catalogue the Syon Abbey archive and the Common Ground archive. My main responsibility as a project archivist is to arrange, repackage, and describe the different components of an archive. This is done by creating a hierarchical structure of sections, series, files, and items that provides contextual information about how the records were originally used. Each component is given a unique reference number and the descriptions are added to a database. Users can then search the database via an online catalogue to identify material of interest and request to view it in our reading room. I would just like to emphasise here that archives are available to everyone, and can be used as much for academic study as for general interest or pleasure.

In addition to cataloguing, I like to find other ways to enable access to archives – the essence, really, of what I think being an archivist is all about – including through giving talks, managing the University of Exeter Heritage Collections Twitter account (@UoEHeritageColl), and creating online guides to our collections.

Nandini: This brings us nicely to the Black History Resource Guide, which you have created this year. What led you to prepare this guide? Continue reading “A Black History Resource Guide: steps towards decolonising the library”

Decolonising and Black British History: a teaching resource

Laura Sangha
University of Exeter

Cross-posted from The Many-Headed Monster

If you are thinking about decolonising your history module this year, this seminar plan [pdf] might be of use to you. It’s based around ‘Black Lives in Early Modern England’, but with minor tweaking of the reading and primary sources it could be adapted for most modules, whether pre-modern or modern.

John Blanke (detail from 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll).

The seminar aims to introduce students to some key concepts whilst also encouraging them to think about methodology and historiography. It combines synchronous and asynchronous activities, and is equivalent to four hours of synchronous seminar time (it’s designed for my Special Subject which in non-pandemic years is taught by means of 2 x 2 hour seminars a week).

In this post, I want to share some of my recent experiences and which provide some context to where the seminar emerged from. Continue reading “Decolonising and Black British History: a teaching resource”

Decolonising the curriculum: A conversation

Nandini Chatterjee and Richard Toye
University of Exeter

Nandini Chatterjee (NC): Is there a necessary connection between trying to make the university an inclusive place, and decolonising the curriculum?

Richard Toye (RT): Yes, I think there is, but at the same time they are not one and the same thing. That is to say, you could, in theory, have a wonderful, fully decolonised curriculum and at the same time fail to eradicate the various forms of discrimination that staff and students face. On the other hand, you could perhaps do a fair bit to removing those inequalities without having succeeded in adjusting the curriculum. But I do think that the two things go hand in hand, insofar as the messages that we give in the classroom are obviously a very important part of the university experience. If we set the right tone there, both in terms of inclusiveness and intellectual content, that really ought to have some wider benefit. I think there is a dilemma, though. Some people may well have an interest in a particular type of history because of their own ethnic and family history, and why not? But I think that we have to be careful not to assume that because somebody comes from a particular background they will be interested in a particular type or part of history and that ‘inclusiveness’ is achieved by laying on that variety of history. Black people may be especially interested in black history, for all sorts of good reasons, but nobody should expect them to be, or assume that they will be uninterested in other kinds of history. We wouldn’t expect white people only to be interested in white history, in fact I think we would look upon that as positively dangerous. What is your view? Continue reading “Decolonising the curriculum: A conversation”