The University of Oxford has introduced a new compulsory exam paper for history students to include Indian, Asian and Middle Eastern affairs as part of a wider move to make its curriculum more inclusive. Possible topics include the Indian independence movement and the 1960s civil rights movement, highlighting figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. There will still be two compulsory papers on British history but from the autumn semester this year, the university’s history undergraduates will have to take a paper that covers neither British nor European topics as part of their three-year degree, The Sunday Times reported.
The move comes as universities across the country face protests as part of a wider “Why is my curriculum white?” campaign and demand that syllabus be “decolonised”. Martin Conway, head of the faculty at the world’s leading university, said the change was being made to “bring in diversity in terms of the teaching of history” after consulting students.
Other UK universities are also revising the way they teach history in the face of student demands. At Leeds University, a module on black British history is in development and the university’s Raphael Hallett said academics wanted to “audit” the syllabus to see whether it was designed from a “western or hegemonic perspective”.
A university spokesperson said: “We are always open to academically sound suggestions for augmenting our curriculum.” At Cambridge University, Professor Sir Richard Evans, told the newspaper that they were changing the way the British Empire was taught. “It is being studied in a more balanced way,” he said. Earlier this year, the Student Union at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), well-known as among the few European institutions dedicated to the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, had launched their own decolonisation drive demanding that “white philosophers” should be studied only if required and solely from a “critical standpoint”.
The union’s proposal to the university reads: “To make sure that the majority of the philosophers on our courses are from the Global South or it’s diaspora.” “SOAS’ focus is on Asia and Africa and therefore the foundations of its theories should be presented by Asian or African philosophers (or the diaspora)”. “If white philosophers are required, then to teach their work from a critical standpoint. For example, acknowledging the colonial context in which so called ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers wrote within.”
According to the union, “Decolonising SOAS” is a campaign that aims to address the “structural and epistemological legacy” of colonialism within the university.