Welcome to the Royal Historical Society’s ‘Writing Race’ blog series
‘Writing Race’ is a series of articles exploring new research undertaken in universities, museums, archives and by community history projects.
Series One of the series ran between March and October 2021. Series Two began in February 2022 and is ongoing.
- Do you work on race and its relationship to history, broadly defined?
- Have you engaged with questions relating to race within the classroom, at university, in the museum?
- Are you looking for a way to reflect on your experiences, and analyse and share your research?
The Society’s ‘Writing Race’ series seeks articles of up to 1000 words from researchers working in the field of history and race.
The series is one aspect of the Society’s work to promote greater equality within the historical profession, on which more is available here.
If you’d like to contribute to Writing Race, please contact the Society’s Academic Director, Philip Carter, with your proposal.
Posts from Series Two of ‘Writing Race’ (from February 2022)
In her new article, published in ‘Transactions of the Royal Historical Society’, Subhadipa Dutta offers a historiographical review of the history of Western sport in colonial India. In this post, Subhadipa explains how she came to her subject as a PhD researcher, and how her research broadens understanding of sport in colonial India beyond the establish focus on adult male participants. Her article is one of the first essays in the journal’s new ‘Common Room’ section: a space for topical commentary on all aspects of historical research, to which submissions are warmly welcome.
22 June 2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in Essex. The ship brought to Britain just over 800 passengers who had left the West Indies, the great majority of whom sought to settle and begin new lives in the UK. The Windrush 75 anniversary is being marked in 2023 with events, exhibitions and broadcasts. This post offers a selection of history-related events. They include academic conferences, lectures and seminars, alongside exhibitions, community history events and performances, from organisations large and small. They are a small selection of what’s available.
Social History From the Global South: New Voices from Southern Africa. Reflections on British Academy Funded Writing Workshop, University of the Free State, South Africa.
In February 2023, the University of the Free State, South Africa, hosted the workshop ‘Social History from the Global South: New Voice from Southern Africa’, funded by the British Academy. This workshop was organised to address the issue of research output in the humanities from the African Continent. In a series of six sessions, the participants focused on the topic of journal publishing. They identified certain limitations, discussed writing techniques, and established new approaches to the publishing process. In this blog, historians Kate Law, Andrew Cohen, Matt Graham and Alfred Tembo highlight the workshop’s aims, objectives and principal outcomes.
‘Historical Research in the Digital Age’, Part 5: ‘Digitising History from a Global Perspective; and what this tells us about access and inequality’
In this fifth post in our ‘Historical Research in the Digital Age’ series, Gerben Zaagsma explores the concept of ‘digital abundance’ in global perspective. When we speak about abundance, whose abundance are we talking about, who can access it, and why does it matter? Allocations of digital resources, and the capacity to access digital content, reflect wider discrepancies in research culture between the Global North and South. However, as Gerben argues, the realities of digital imbalance also complicate these binary divisions. These are deficits of which we all need to be aware and to address.
In July 2022, Peter Good received one of two Jinty Nelson Teaching Awards given annually by the Royal Historical Society. In this post, for the Society’s ‘Teaching Portal’, Peter reflects on his classroom practice, and how he seeks to communicate the histories of early Modern Europe and the Islamic World to his students. Launched in 2020, the Teaching Portal now offers more than 60 articles and guides for History students and teachers in Higher Education.
‘Black at Sussex’ is a five-year project which reflects on the history of the Black experience at Sussex University since its foundation in 1961. The project, which launched this autumn, sees Sussex academics and alumni working in partnership with two photographers – Charlie Phillips and Eddie Otchere. In this latest post to the Society’s ‘Writing Race’ series, Valerie Kporye introduces ‘Black at Sussex’ and a selection of the portraits taken so far.
On 1 November, broadcaster and journalist Kavita Puri gave the 2022 RHS Public History lecture, in association with Gresham College. Kavita’s lecture — ‘The Partition of British India: 75 Years On’ — explores the impact of dividing British India by recovering and sharing the life stories of British Asians today. Kavita’s lecture is now available to watch via the Gresham College website.
In this latest post from the RHS ‘Writing Race’ series, Helen Mavin, Head of Photographs for the Imperial War Museums, discusses the challenges of creating national museum, gallery, and archive collections. In her role as Co-Investigator for the recent AHRC-funded ‘Provisional Semantics’ project, Helen analysed and reinterpreted captions for colonial Indian photographs from the Second World War. In doing so, the project sought to deconstruct racially divisive barriers created by these captions, while maintaining historical accuracy.
In this latest post for the ‘Writing Race’ series, Sarisha Kumar, Head of Talent at Poet in the City, describes recent projects that engage with the legacies Britain’s colonial past. Sarisha works with culture and heritage organisations across the UK to reveal the hidden stories of museum objects, as well as the lived experiences of British people, whose cultural identities have been shaped by colonialism.
What is History For? is a short series of articles in which historians explore the purpose and value of their research and craft. In this second post, Tionne Parris considers the example set by mid-20th-century Black radical women in their struggle for change. What might historical study of their approach to, and framing of, activism teach us about engaging with present-day challenges, of which the climate emergency looms largest? A version of Tionne’s article was first presented at the ‘What is History For?’ conference held at the University of Birmingham, in May 2022.
In the latest post in our ‘Writing Race, 2’ series, Warren A. Stanislaus considers the potentiality of Black British History: one more porous and expansive than is currently imagined. In doing so, Warren engages with extra-territorial zones that don’t comfortably fit with an establish framework of the Empire Windrush and its Atlantic voyage.
What does it mean to engage audiences with complex and traumatic histories of empire and war? And how might we engage with the ‘un-commemorated’, whose names have not appeared on the memorial landscape? Dr Diya Gupta (Royal Historical Society) and Dr Anna Maguire (QMUL) recently posed these questions in workshops for school-age students and their teachers studying the British Empire and the First and Second World Wars.
How does an oral historian, working in Mozambique, respond to the lockdowns and travel restrictions of recent years? Johanna Wetzel researches the history of youth — ‘ser jovem’ or ‘juventude’ — in Maputo, with particular reference to the importance attached to youth and the young by first-generation leaders of post-independence Mozambique. Unable to travel, Johanna turned to online programmes and training funded by a research grant from the Royal Historical Society.
In the next in our ‘Writing Race’ series, Vishwajeet Deshmukh considers the history of racial ‘passing’ within India’s Anglo-Indian community. Mixed-race descendants of European fathers and Indian mothers, members of the Anglo-Indian community are often studied in the context of their historical assimilation within European societies. However, ‘passing’ was also a feature of colonial Indian society, as Anglo-Indians sought the higher status of ‘Europeans’.
There are currently many thousands of artefacts held in UK museums and other public collections. ‘Devolving Restitution’ is a series of workshops to study the histories of African artefacts in museums and heritage institutions. In this post Stanley Jachike Onyemechalu and Sarah Scheyerle explore the presentation and value of Objects of Sovereignty at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.
Posts from Series One of ‘Writing Race’ (March to October 2021)
How should historians engage with the source materials that record and communicate empire from the perspective of imperial rule? Are there ways of working with sources that enable researchers to free themselves from the intellectual constraints imposed by historical imagery and its categorisation? Maria Creech explores her methodological approach to ‘unlearning’ imperialism.
In August of this year, the Society organised its first ‘positive action’ workshop for early-career historians of colour. The initiative was led by the RHS’s Race, Ethnicity and Equality Working Group which was responsible for the RHS’s Race Report (2018). Here, Dr Diya Gupta and Dr Jonathan Saha explain the motivations for the workshop, and reflect on the outcomes of what’s hoped will be the first in a programme of focused training events.
In the eleventh post for our ‘Writing Race’ series, Dr Amber Lascelles introduces the Black Health and the Humanities project at the University of Bristol. The project sits at the intersection of Black humanities and medical humanities, and brings together scholars whose research intervenes in Black health across a range of disciplines, including history, art, sociology, law, literature, media and theatre.
‘Greek Life’ is a distinctive part of the social and cultural experience of universities in the United States, and has faced recent scrutiny for acts of racism, sexism and homophobia. Yet, as Dr Taulby Edmondson argues here — in the latest article in the ‘Writing Race’ series — the existence of longstanding Black sororities and fraternities complicate calls for an end to this culture. Studying how minorities use and transform predominantly white institutions raises questions about how we go about deconstructing the white supremacy within them.
For the ninth post in the RHS ‘Writing Race’ blog series, Jamie Banks investigates ‘cannabis psychosis’ and its disproportionate diagnosis amongst Britain’s Afro-Caribbean communities. Studying this intersection of medicine, culture, and policing brings to light the methodological difficulties around motivation and responsibility which racism poses for historians.
How do we study material culture taken from Africa during colonialism? In the next in our ‘Writing Race’ series, Allegra Ayida considers the material legacy of the nineteenth-century Itsekiri Chief, Nanna Olomu.
How do modern European nations remember the abolition of slavery, and how does this affect campaigns for racial justice? Olivia Durand introduces her research on France’s complicated relationship with abolitionism and slavery.
Statues and commemorations of Cecil Rhodes provoke strongly reactions. In this post from the ‘Writing Race’ series, Durba Ghosh considers the longer history of Rhodes statuary. This, she reveals, has been equally turbulent.
In what ways did colonialism redefine and enforce concepts of sexual behaviour, and how do historians best recover the lives of those affected? For the ‘Writing Race’ series, Sudeshna Chatterjee considers the governance of commercial sex work in British India.
The work undertaken by lower caste Indian women during Second World War is both surprising and shocking. In the fourth post in the ‘Writing Race’ series, Urvi Khaitan reveals how many thousands of women worked above and below ground in mines or for the Labour Corps to support the allied war effort. Today their contributions and hardships remain little known.
In this third post for our new ‘Writing Race’ blog series, Serena Cheyenne — a recent MA graduate in Public History — recalls her own educational experience and argues for the opportunities provided by publicly-accessible digital technologies.
How can researchers work sensitively with recent oral histories? In this post for our new ‘Writing Race’ blog series, Jessica White reflects on the ethical questions she has encountered as a white postgraduate working on the history of race in modern Britain.
Much is still unknown about the experiences of Britons of colour in the wartime British armed services. This is particularly true of the Royal Navy. In the first post in our new ‘Writing Race’ blog series, Dr Frances Houghton introduces her research and attempts to find out more.