Posted by on January 19, 2018 at 7:15 am

The University of Huddersfield’s motto is ‘Inspiring Tomorrow’s Professionals,’ but any motto that does not have policies, practices and a track record of achievement is theory at best, or misleading at worst. Unfortunately, many British universities have struggled to truly inspire, because it means championing ground breaking research and actively being involved in their local communities. Nowadays, the challenges for academics are manifest. Increasingly, academics are being judged by peer groups on the research assessment process called REF and how much money they have raised.  But what about innovations in research, the quality of lectures and seminars? What about the study of history as an agent for social change?

The cover of Blackamoores, Onyeka's book about Africans in Tudor England

The cover of Blackamoores, Onyeka’s book about Africans in Tudor England

The research undertaken by Onyeka is on a criminally neglected aspect of English history. It has been neglected most of all by British universities, because it challenges many entrenched positions in British academia. The book Blackamoores (2013) is the result of Onyeka’s twenty-four years of investigations, where he examined over 250,000 documents. The narrative of Blackamoores dispels the illusion of a mono-ethnic English/British history; but that is not all it challenges.  Onyeka’s approach provides a corrective to the way research is conducted (historical methodology) and he challenges us to democratise who we recognise as teachers. We must think beyond the myopia of institutionalism. And this is very necessary as academia in British Universities is almost entirely mono-ethnically white. There have been campaigns, supported by the National Union of Students, that ask ‘Why isn’t my professor black?’ and ‘why is my curriculum white?’. But until existing institutional leadership is able to radically shift its methods of appointments this problem will not end.

Onyeka poses difficult questions in Blackamoores, and since publication, in the sixty-three lectures and seminars to accompany his research, he poses more.  How much of the history that we write or teach actually matters?  How much impacts the world? Have we forgotten that history is meant to inform us so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past?

Onyeka continues this groundbreaking and pioneering work at the University of Huddersfield.  He has been a visiting research fellow in History at the University of Huddersfield, since 2016.  He will contribute through community involvement to help democratise academia, and he will help develop inclusive curricula across history strands at the university that is evidence based. History at Huddersfield has built a series of important links with community organisations such as Kirklees Local TV, Building African Caribbean Communities, Let’s Go Yorkshire and Narrative Eye. It has done so to ensure that research at the university is considered as public knowledge – collaboratively achieved and respected through partnerships from people with diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

Onyeka has been an invited keynote speaker at a series of public events since 2016 at the University. This has included lectures at the History in Action day held annually at the University last year, and a seminar on ‘What they never taught you in history class’ about the absence and exclusion of people of African descent in the English narrative. Audience responses included: ‘What an amazing event last night! I don’t know if I have ever heard a lecture give with such eloquence and conviction.’

Onyeka will also co-author academic research with academics at the university, including staff, research students, and community partners. He has co-authored a chapter called ‘Who controls the past controls the future’: Black History and Community Development that will be published in 2018 by Policy Press called Co-producing research: a community development approach edited by Sarah Banks (Durham University), Angie Hart (University of Brighton), Kate Pahl (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Paul Ward (University of Huddersfield).

Onyeka can be contacted at info@narrative-eye.org.uk

Narrative Eye is an organisation dedicated to promoting equality and social change through education.  It is dedicated to the production and promotion of creative works that document and challenge the inequalities and injustices faced through lack of diversity.

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