On January 17th 2020 I delivered the keynote lecture at the Political Studies Association Schools Day at the University of Warwick. The theme of the event was the politics of imperial legacies. My talk was entitled 'How should we deal today with the legacy of the British Empire', and it focused specifically on how young people position themselves in relation to the British Empire, when their history curriculum at school tells them one thing and their consciences often tell them something else entirely. In particular, we discussed how a number of British universities are attempting to confront their own history of benefiting from donations from slave traders, plantation owners, tobacco merchants and the like. Technology was used for the lecture which enabled the students to engage through anonymous voting, sometimes in relation to questions of fact (where they had to guess the most likely answer, as they could not have been expected to know it) and sometimes in relation to questions of opinion (where they could also guess how everyone else had voted before the answers were revealed on the screen).
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.
For a week during the school summer holidays of 2019, my Department co-hosted sixteen young people along with the Departments of Liberal Arts and Sociology for Warwick's Sutton Trust Summer School. Our stream was organised around the themes and the insights of the Colonial Hangover project. I delivered three sessions to the students during the course of the week. One was with my colleagues Shahnaz Akhter, John Morris and Ben Richardson, where we relied on the help we had been given this year by our undergraduate student research assistants Victoria Carasava and Darius Stasiulevicius to deliver an Imperial Walking Tour of Royal Leamington Spa, the town in which most Warwick undergraduates live for at least part of their degree. The other sessions were interactive lectures using the Vevox app to allow the students to express themselves through in-time online voting. These latter sessions were called, 'Restorative Approaches to the Legacy of Empire' and 'Empire and the Politics of Heroes'.
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 December 18th 2018 I was involved in the Departmental organisation of what, we are told, was the biggest ever off-campus Widening Participation event in Warwick's history. The event was staged at the British Museum in London, and we had almost 150 Year 11 and Year 12 students attend. It was called 'The Politics of Memorialisation', and I spoke to the theme 'Memorialisation through Speech: The Politics of Apologising for the British Empire'. It was fitting that this talk took place in the British Museum, where a number of the exhibits are now deemed controversial because they came to the UK as a direct consequence of Empire. The day included a tour of the Museum conducted by our undergraduate student ambassadors, who showed the participating school students the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone and Hoa Hakananai'a, all of which have been the subject of ongoing campaigns for repatriation from people who treat their presence in the UK as evidence of imperial plunder. My talk triggered a heated debate amongst the students about the rights and wrongs of issuing historical apologies for actions that were undertaken in other times and under the influence of a very different system of morals to the one in place today. The debate itself has had an important afterlife, as it has sparked more invitations to schools to provide talks and more invitations to engage with school-aged students on the continually controversial question of how Britain made international markets for itself through Empire.
On October 19th 2018 I was invited to Lyng Hall School in Coventry to give a talk about the politics of statues, but to do so specifically in relation to the city of Coventry itself. The students quickly embraced the issue, and they will be working with our Widening Participation team on a project this year that will ask whether an alternative way might be found of memorialising Myrtilla, who was brought to this country from St Nevis as a slave in the late seventeenth century. She is buried in the churchyard of St Lawrence in Oxhill in the Warwickshire countryside, and unusually for someone in her situation Myrtilla was provided with a headstone. However, her headstone states that she continued to be 'owned' even in death. The students are interested in developing a new way of commemorating Myrtilla's life. They have also promised to pass on to us any interesting stories they learn about the statues that they encounter in Coventry when they are walking around the city in future.
On October 2nd 2018 I was invited back to my old school following my visit in May. The students had asked me to come back to talk about Brexit, and I delivered a new session on 'Brexit and Democracy' that I had worked up specifically for them. I spoke to over fifty sixth-formers, and I will be going back again very soon.
For a week during the school summer holidays of 2018, my Department hosted sixteen young people who had successfully applied to the Politics stream of the Sutton Trust Summer School at Warwick (https://summerschools.suttontrust.com/). Our week of events was organised around the themes of the Colonial Hangover project. I delivered three sessions to the students during the course of the week: (1) To What Extent Is Empire Still With Us Today?; (2) The Politics of Imperial Commemoration; and (3) The Politics of Global Apologies. I also helped to organise their outing for the day that they spent away from campus, which was designed to show them how the threads of empire were woven deeply into the Warwickshire countryside from the seventeenth century onwards.
On July 11th 2018 I delivered the same lecture twice to the Sixth Form Applicants Open Day at the University of Birmingham School. The lecture was entitled 'The Politics of Statues', and I focused in particular on the statues that the students were likely to see around them in Birmingham and how they relate to patterns of political protest that have developed around public artworks in recent years.
On June 15th 2018 my Department ran a RADA Bronze Award Schools Day, where we teamed up with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to provide the means for Year 10 students from the Coventry and Warwickshire area to study for a Shakespeare Award. We ran this in conjunction with the Colonial Hangover project. The engagement with RADA will develop over a series of sessions, each of which will explore themes of territory and empire in Shakespeare's plays. I delivered the opening lecture of the first day to 60 fifteen-year-olds and their teachers. It was entitled, 'The Colonial Hangover Project: What Should Our Instinctive Response to the British Empire Be Today?'
The second event was held on June 29th and was entitled 'Exploring Shakespeare'. I gave a short talk as a taster for the concluding event on the controversies surrounding the statues in Parliament Square, contrasting this to the politically non-controversial statues of Shakespeare and Shakespearean characters that appear in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. This followed lectures by my colleagues Stuart Elden and Shahnaz Akhter on 'Shakespeare and Territory' and 'Shakespeare and Hip Hop' respectively.
The third event was held on July 10th and was entitled 'Shakespeare at the Houses of Parliament'. I delivered a lecture entitled 'The Politics of Statues', before the students delivered their interpretations of political scenes in Shakespeare in front of our invited guests from RADA. We then took the students into Parliament Square to look at the statues there, and my colleague Jason Dymydiuk prepared an information sheet for them on potential political controversies surrounding many of Westminster's most famous public works of art.
The 2018 Colonial Hangover project for my Department's Widening Participation schools began with a full day of events on January 26th. This year's competition was introduced to the students, along with the list of milestones that will help them to develop their entries under the guidance of our undergraduate student ambassadors. I delivered the opening lecture for the day, called 'The British Empire and the 'History Wars' over the English School Curriculum'. Over seventy students were in attendance during the day.
On October 31st 2017 I was invited to speak at a Future Leaders Event organised by Lloyds Banking Group's Inclusion and Diversity Division. The event took place in The Shard in London. 160 Lloyds staff and guests were invited to hear a range of talks about the difficulties experienced by BAME colleagues in moving through the ranks of their organisation and into middle management. I spoke about the Colonial Hangover project, linking the work that I do on one of my Department's schools outreach projects to the distance that large organisations still have to travel if they are to provide a context for their staff to experience a working environment that survives the charge of being institutionally racist. I argued that an organisation that is only partially aware of its own history is an organisation that cannot guarantee that it will survive such a charge. I illustrated this through reference to the imperial legacies that our Widening Participation students learn about through the Colonial Hangover project and the imperial legacies that all of Britain's banks still have. The evening was a great success, and further talks will follow as a means of deepening the link.
The evening event also grew to encompass an afternoon event where members of my Department spoke in an informal and off-the-record manner with executives from Lloyds, Deloittes, Ernst and Young, Bank of New York Mellon, the BBC and the Black British Business Awards on matters of inclusion and diversity. Documents under discussion were the recent Parker, McGregor-Smith and Black British Business Awards reviews on the restricted opportunities for career advancement amongst BAME staff within the corporate sector. Again, things went very well, and further meetings are planned to move the conversation forward.
I spent some time duing the summer of 2017 giving lectures to school-age students on my Department's Colonial Hangover Widening Participation project. On June 30th I was asked to deliver the opening keynote lecture to the Colonial Hangover Conference, which brought together A-level students with whom we had been working over the course of the year and our own undergraduates to whom we wanted to give experience of operating in an academic conference-like environment. On August 8th I gave the first two lectures to my Department's Sutton Trust Summer School, which was run throughout the week on the Colonial Hangover theme. The first lecture was entitled, 'The Politics of Imperial Names', the second 'The Imperial Politics of the Built Environment'.
Along with my Department's Widening Participation Officer, Shahnaz Akhter, I launched the Colonial Hangover project at a Schools Day event we ran for Year 12 students on January 17th 2017. The project will run for the whole year and will invite the participating students to reflect on the images of empire that they continue to find around them on a day-to-day basis. It picks up on an increasing sense that the British Empire might well have been formally disbanded, but that assumptions about empire continue to shape our everyday experiences. This has perhaps never been more amply demonstrated than in the vision of Britain's place in the world that animated the Leave campaign at the 2016 EU referendum and that now provides the dominant imagery for Theresa May's preferred account of what a post-Brexit Britain might look like.
Assisted by our undergraduate student research assistants Taznema Khatun and Jonas Eberhardt, we also put on a Colonial Hangover conference on June 30th 2017. This was designed to allow our schools competition winners to present their work - both essays and spoken word pieces - in an environment in which they could interact with our undergraduates and learn more about university life from the latter's presentations. It proved to be an exhilarating day in which all of the students took the opportunity to really talk about themselves, their experiences of the legacies of empire and what it means to live in a society that continues to be dominated by assumptions of white privilege. Recordings from the day will shortly be available.