Oxford University to make Black, Asian and non-European history compulsory to improve 'white curriculum'

Undergraduate students will be able to study the lives of non-white world leaders and influencers such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Mahatma Gandhi

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The Independent Online

History students at the University of Oxford will be required to sit at least one exam paper focusing on black, Asian and other non-European history, following long-held complaints about an overly “white” curriculum.

From the next academic year, all Oxford history undergraduate students will choose at least one from a range of papers covering non-British and non-European areas of interest during their three-year degree course. 

The move comes as universities across the UK face protests led by the student campaign, Why is my curriculum white?, The Times reported.

Possible topics for students to choose from include the 1960s civil rights movement in the US, Indian independence, the Spanish conquest of Mexico and te development of modern Japan. Figures such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Mahatma Gandhi will feature prominently.

The top ranking UK institution has been criticised in recent years for not recruiting enough black students, despite a growing number of BAME students applying.

The university has also been at the centre of controversy following the student-led Rhodes Must Fall campaign, which saw thousands of people across the UK and South Africa campaign for statues of Cecil Rhodes to be removed on the basis that he was a “racist colonialist”.

Oxford’s Oriel College, which is home to one Cecil Rhodes figure, has since refused to take it down.

An Oxford University spokesman said there was “no link” between the Rhodes Must Fall campaign and the updated history curriculum – the move was in fact four years in the making, he said.

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In a statement, the university’s History Faculty said the department “regularly reviews and updates its course curriculum to reflect the latest developments in the subject. 

“After a number of years of discussion and consultation among ourselves and with students, we have decided to make a number of changes to the curriculum. 

“Among these is a requirement that students study one paper (from a wide range of such options) in non-British and non-European history, alongside two papers of British History and two papers of European History.” 

Students take eleven papers in total during their history degree, the faculty added, and many members already opt to take at least one paper of non-European or British history. 

“We are pleased to be modernising and diversifying our curriculum in this way,” the department said.

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The move has been welcomed by students and academics alike, but critics have argued the change does little to solve Oxford’s underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities.

Niall Ferguson, a former Oxford professor who is now at the Hoover Institution in America, told The Times: “By comparison with America, some history courses here do look a bit old-fashioned. 

“I am not the kind of backwoodsman who thinks Oxford should only teach English history and general history, which is what it did when I was an undergraduate, but let us be careful not to stop teaching crucial subjects like the rise of the West or the world wars in the effort to make courses more diverse.”

This year, the institution unveiled a series of new portraits of women and non-white scholars and alumni in a bid to “redress diversity” on show.

Other universities are also in the process of reviewing their history curriculums, it was reported, including Leeds, where a module in Black British History is said to be in development.

Cambridge professor Sir Richard Evans also said the way the empire was being taught was changing. “It is being studied in a more balanced way,” he said.

* This article originally reported that Oxford University was to introduce a "new exam paper" featuring black, Middle Eastern, Asian and Indian events, which was to be taken by all history undergraduates. In fact, as the quoted comments from Oxford University made clear, the change to the curriculum simply makes it a requirement that all history students take at least one non-European paper from a range of options during their degree. Some of the options have been available for many years. 6/6/17 

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