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Jeremy Corbyn lately proposed that British college kids must be taught concerning the historical past of the realities of British imperialism and colonialism. This would come with the historical past of individuals of color as parts of, and contributors to, the British nation-state – reasonably than merely as enslaved victims of it. As Corbyn rightly famous: “Black historical past is British historical past”.

‘The scholars I encounter know little or no about Britain’s previous’ 

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This can be a welcome proposal as a result of, as a tutorial who teaches modules on South Asian, imperial, colonial and international historical past, I face an uphill battle at first of every new tutorial yr.

Lots of the undergraduates who greet me know nearly nothing about any of the themes I train.

A curriculum by white males

These are college students who’re educated by means of a college historical past curriculum that focuses virtually completely on English political and spiritual historical past – with bits of 20th-century European historical past thrown in. These are the bits with figures who can simply be forged as “evil” – Hitler or Stalin, for instance.



A soviet propaganda poster featuring joseph stalin published by the iskusstvo publishing house, 1950 (?), 'under the leadership of great stalin - forward to communism'. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)


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A soviet propaganda poster that includes joseph stalin printed by the iskusstvo publishing home, 1950 (?), ‘beneath the management of nice stalin – ahead to communism’. (Photograph by: Sovfoto/UIG through Getty Photos)

The scholars who I encounter know little or no about Britain’s previous, not to mention Britain’s connections with the broader world or the historical past of the world exterior Europe.

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They due to this fact know virtually nothing about empire and its legacies – together with in Britain. The histories they’ve studied and texts they’ve learn have been nearly all about or by white males, so additionally they know nothing concerning the historical past of ladies or the histories of individuals of color, both. This consists of those that have performed vital roles in shaping Britain’s previous.

Learn extra: Thanks, Jeremy Corbyn – what you mentioned about colonialism was spot on

‘Black historical past is British historical past’

Corbyn’s proposals wouldn’t solely start to redress the outstanding gulf between tutorial historical past and the English college curriculum. They’d additionally assist college students to see individuals of color as historic brokers. The proposals can also assist to problem the exclusivist and essentialist methods wherein college students are taught to view each Britain and the broader world.

These proposals, nonetheless, have been met with the kind of outrage many have come to count on from white, middle-aged, right-wing conservatives. In keeping with the “bullish” Brexiteer and Conservative MP Tom Loughton, Corbyn’s proposals demonstrated he was “ashamed” of his personal nation – and was extra interested by “speaking down” Britain reasonably than celebrating “the immense quantity of excellent now we have achieved on the planet over many centuries”.

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British pro-Brexit conservative politician Jacob Rees-Mogg poses for a photograph in central London on October 18, 2018. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)        (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)


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British pro-Brexit conservative politician Jacob Rees-Mogg poses for {a photograph} in central London on October 18, 2018. (Photograph by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photograph credit score ought to learn DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Photos)

“Dangerous issues”, in keeping with Loughton, undoubtedly occurred within the title of empire, however Britain must be happy with its many legacies – together with its function in abolishing the worldwide slave commerce. To not be outdone, the equally bullish Brexiteer Jacob Rees Mogg trotted out Britain’s abolition of the slave commerce on Nick Ferrari’s LBC present. He additionally famous that whereas there have been “blots” on Britain’s colonial historical past it had some “good bits” that have been “actually great”.

Denial about empire

‘Educating kids to interrogate tough histories doesn’t make them hate their nation’ 

Such responses display a profound ignorance about British imperial and colonial historical past, significantly concerning the impression of empire on not solely the colonised but additionally the colonisers as effectively. However it’s a state of denial about empire that makes views like these of Loughton and Rees Mogg potential. To say that empire had “good bits” is to disclaim what empire entailed – specifically the conquest, subjugation and exploitation of tens of millions of individuals.

It’s to erase the super structural and symbolic violence that empire unleashed. To reward Britain’s function in abolishing the slave commerce is simply potential if we deny the assorted types of financial, political, social and cultural violence that enabled the perpetuation of such a commerce – in Britain and its empire – in addition to the continuing legacies of such types of violence. To view empire as having “good” and “dangerous” bits additionally entails viewing the previous in simplistic phrases. And to say college students ought to solely examine the “good bits” of the previous additionally begs the query: whose “good bits”, precisely?

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It additionally assumes that to show schoolchildren the “dangerous” bits is to make them ashamed of their nation’s previous. But as Germany has demonstrated, educating kids to interrogate tough histories doesn’t make them hate their nation. It might serve, as a substitute, to advertise an “anti-nationalist nationalism”, wherein the very tenets of nationalist considering – together with viewing the previous in nationalistic phrases – are critiqued.

As my very own college students have instructed me, having the ability to interrogate tough histories such because the historical past of empire, to discover the myriad connections between individuals in numerous elements of the planet, or to check the writings of Indian thinkers and actors has given them a a lot better understanding of themselves and their place on the planet. Or, as one pupil put it, it has enabled them to “develop as an individual”. And that, absolutely, is what training is meant to do.

Deana Heath is a Senior Lecturer in Indian and Colonial Historical past on the College of Liverpool

This text is republished from The Dialog beneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the unique article.

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