Widening Participation Talk at Sir John Talbot's Comprehensive School, Whitchurch, and at King Edward VI College, Nuneaton
On November 12th 2019 I revisited my old school, Sir John Talbot’s in Whitchurch Shropshire, to provide a follow-up session to the one I delivered in October. This time, though, it was just the Year 13s who were in attendance. The title of my talk was: ‘How should we deal today with the legacy of the British Empire?’ I ran the students through a number of examples of how UK universities are attempting to confront the way in which their history intersects with the history of British imperialism and the history of British slave trading. Different institutions have adopted very different strategies, and I utilised interactive technology to allow the students to use their phones to vote in real time on the effectiveness of those strategies. The actions of UK universities are often a means of signalling contrition at their complicity in imperial structures, which opened up the discussion to a focus on political apologies more generally. The students were able to see just how difficult political actors have found it to offer an unconditional apology for even some of the worst atrocities committed in the name of the British Empire.
I then gave a version of a very similar talk to the Think Higher day at King Edward VI College in Nuneaton on January 30th 2020. Once again, interactive smartphone technology was used to enable the students to participate in the lecture and also to guess the opinions that they believed their classmates held on strategies for confronting Britain's imperial past and devising suitable commemorations of Empire.
On October 1st 2019 I was invited back once again to my old school to talk to the Sixth Form Forum. I provided them with a Whitchurch-specific and a school-specific talk to try to spark their interest in our Colonial Hangover project. It was entitled, 'Sir John Talbot's and Clive of India'. The link is really rather straightforward: when I was at the school, one of the houses was named after Robert Clive, who was treated as something of a local celebrity. I began by asking them whether me and my classmates should regret our passivity in the face of one of our school houses being named after someone who by today's system of public morals would be considered a war criminal. This then became a prelude to asking them to reflect on whether the Clive name should be removed from various locations in North Shropshire and what they would do about the fact that Clive's statue still stands proudly in the main market square in the county town of Shrewsbury. Sixty-seven sixth-formers were in attendance.
On June 25th 2019 I was invited back once again to my old school to talk to the Sixth Form Forum. The students had asked me to talk about Brexit back in October 2018, and they wanted a follow-up session this time around: not one that simply brought them up-to-date with things that they might in any case already have seen on the news, so much as to show them the types of questions that they might be asked about Brexit if they choose to study politics at university in due course. I delivered a new session called 'Imperial Nostalgia and Brexit' that I had worked up specifically for them. Once more I was able to speak to over fifty sixth-formers. I will be invited back in the autumn to unveil our Colonial Hangover project to them.
On May 22nd 2018 I was invited back to my old school - Sir John Talbot's Comprehensive School in Whitchurch, Shropshire - to deliver a caeers talk to students in Years 11, 12 and 13. The title that I was asked to speak to was 'My Journey from Sir John Talbot's to Being a University Professor'.