Paul Ward, Professor of Modern British History, and Milton Brown, founder of Kirklees Local TV and Kirklees African Descent Community Media Productions, gave a joint paper at a workshop at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London on what’s happening in black British history.
We argued that the future of black British history lies in the co-production of historical knowledge – through collaboration between community partners and universities, to ensure that people of African descent are ‘writing’ their own histories and contributing to the discussion of British history taking place in universities, which in turn has an impact on school education and media representations.
The co-production of historical knowledge involves the analysis and interpretation of primary sources in collaborations between university historians and others interested in the study of the past.
Black people are significantly under-represented in universities. Only 85 of the UK’s 18,500 professors are black, and only 17 are black women. It is unlikely therefore that most black British history is being written from within the experience of black people in Britain. There have, of course, been some significant exceptions. David Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones map out such advances in the introduction to their monumental achievement in The Oxford Companion to Black British History first published in 2007, aimed at encouraging educators in the UK to pay due attention to the black experience in the British isles over the last 2000 years. The #WHBBH workshop highlighted a series of other historical projects underway, from transatlantic family histories, the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, the production of black histories for television, and bringing black British history into school classrooms (for the full programme see #WHBBH).
We argued that historians often see their relationship with the archives as an individual experience but that involvement of community partners is a way of enriching understanding of the sources by drawing on insights often unavailable to the lone historian. Co-production involves ‘research with rather than on people.’
Our intention is to develop a series of history-related films, including a major documentary about black British history, through a partnership between Kirklees African Descent Community media Productions and a University-funded PhD studentship. First, though, we commissioned a film from KADC to explore questions about co-production. Made entirely by KLTV and KADC, with no editorial input from the university, it is intended to act as a manifesto for joint action. It was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council Connected Communities programme for their 2014 festival in Cardiff, as part of the Imagine: Connecting Communities Through Research grant in which Paul Ward is involved (funded by the Economic and Social Research Council).
In the film, black community activists argue that there has been some reluctance by universities to recognize the importance of their experience, skills and interest in research and they call for joint action in the future to address this absence.What we are thinking about now is how community-based histories and university-produced histories can be combined. It’s not a substitute for structural change to diversify universities in the United Kingdom, but sustained collaborative work, with high quality research outputs will be a way of ensuring that British historiographies are informed by and engage with Black British history..
To view more films about black British history in Huddersfield see Kirklees Local TV
For examples of Black British history see:
http://www.mirandakaufmann.com/ About black people in the early modern period
http://autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/black-chronicles-ii Photographs of 19th and early 20th century black people in Britain
http://soundsystemculturehuddersfield.tumblr.com/ Sound Systems in Huddersfield
History at Huddersfield uses research-led teaching and a commitment to public engagement to ensure that what we do is both useful to society and beneficial to the employability of our students. We see our students as researchers – partners in the development of knowledge with academic staff, often through co-production of knowledge with community partners. For more information see http://www.hud.ac.uk/courses/full-time/undergraduate/history-ba-hons/ and http://www.hud.ac.uk/research/history/
You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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