12/9/2023 0 Comments
"Whatever the curriculum says, YOU have the power to change what happens in the classroom.”
We were pleased to welcome historian, author, raconteuse, Dr Miranda Kaufmann at the end of term to conclude our 2022 – 2023 SWIFT History Masterclass series with her talk on Diversity in the History Curriculum: Black Tudors and Other Untold Stories with inspiration from her book, “Black Tudors: The Untold Story.”
"[It is too easy] by emphasis and omission to make children believe…that every great thought was a white man’s thought and every great deed…a white man’s deed.”
(W.E.B. DuBois, American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist and author).
The impactful inclusion of Black British History is clearly and increasingly a vital priority in diversifying the curriculum. Yet, curriculum observers will know that it is not new.
Teaching Black History dates back to the introduction of the National Curriculum 30 years ago with guidance to teach “the essential knowledge that they [children and young people] need to be educated citizens.”
The important starting point is to acknowledge that Black History is British History. It is not and should not be a hidden truth. Even if some school History textbook covers have conventionally (and painfully) mispresented Black History with clichéd images of enslaved people.
Quoting from Zadie Smith’s acclaimed novel “White Teeth,” Miranda highlighted this recurrent ignorance in the miseducation of Irie Jones. In the story, when Irie, the daughter of an Englishman and a Jamaican woman is studying Shakespeare’s sonnets, she asks her teacher Mrs Roody if the “dark lady” is “black” to which Mrs Rooney replies:
“No dear, she’s dark. She’s not black in the modern sense. There weren’t any… well, Afro-Carri-bee-yans in England at that time, dear. That’s a more modern phenomenon, as I’m sure you know. But this was the 1600s. I mean I can’t be sure, but it does seem terribly unlikely, unless she was a slave of some kind, and he’s unlikely to have written a series of sonnets to a lord and then a slave, is he?”
Uncomfortable, and as Miranda was to show us, inaccurate.
But the good news is that this perception is changing and clarifying.
In a highly engaging talk, it was a refreshing revelation for me, and the Subject Leaders and Teachers of History in the audience to know and understand that over 200 Africans were living freely in Tudor England as Miranda drew on examples from her book featuring the stories of ten Black Tudors.
Wonderfully intriguing and individual roles, such as John Blanke, the Trumpeter, Jacques Francis, the Salvage Diver and Mary Fillis, the Moroccan Convert. All of which intensely and intelligently refuted two common assumptions about Black British History. Firstly, there were Africans in Tudor England over 400 years before the first Windrush immigrants disembarked in Tilbury, Essex. Secondly, they were not enslaved. A clear and compelling case to refute those stereotypical textbook covers.
Next, by teaching Black British History, those students with African ancestry can feel a sense of belonging, in that they are part of British History too.
Clearly, an important piece of diversity, equality and inclusion work; which will hopefully encourage Black students to pursue history to GCSE, A Level and beyond; eventually impacting the way History is studied and presented by academics and popular historians, enhancing the discipline with a broader range of perspectives.
Teaching Black British History can help to support the struggle against racism in challenging racist assumptions that immigration is a 20th Century phenomenon – and can be reversed. As Miranda shows in her book, focusing on the stories of African figures from the past can encourage empathy.
By extension, this helpfully supports a timeline of understanding the ‘before’ the period of slave trading and colonisation and the after; and powerfully demonstrates the role of questioning assumptions in the study of History. The “interruption of the psyche” (Whitburn and Mohamed, Justice 2 History).
As in any curriculum change, there needs to be a long-term commitment and schools and teachers can play their part and we thank Miranda for sharing the following helpful suggestions to upskill and up-knowledge teaching of Black British History in the classroom:
With thanks to Miranda for her motivating and enlightening talk that made us all think about the endurance of Black British History and for sharing ways to teach and bring to life this significant part of history that can inform the present.
By Jude Owens, PA to the Executive Team and Governance