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Archives and decolonisation at Durham University

At the beginning of March, I was invited to represent the Young Historians Project at a conference on 'Archives and Decolonial Pedagogy' at Durham University. The conference spread over two days – with workshops addressing the role of archives in education, the colonial histories of academic institutions, decolonial teaching methods, and more. YHP was invited to spread awareness of the work we have done as a collective to shed light on underrepresented Black British histories. The conference allowed educators and academics of a wide range of disciplines and institutions to engage with each other's projects

The event started with a lunch, where conversations across the table centered around how decolonisation fit into each speakers' discipline. The discussions, led by professors Dr Alice Finden and Dr Kavi Abraham, encouraged us to reckon with how colonisation exists in the structures of the current educational sphere of Britain. I discussed how YHP’s existence is an important step towards breaking from the traditional confines of historiography through highlighting African and Caribbean narratives and championing oral history.

The lunch was followed by a presentation led by me, giving a detailed representation of YHP: Who we are, what we stand for, and an overview of our projects over the years. I talked about how YHP works towards decolonising the curriculum through creating our own learning resources, archives, and spaces – connecting with academics across the country. Creating different ways to learn about subaltern histories was a large part of the general discussion. YHP’s existence and progress is a testament to how this can be achieved.

Following this presentation, a questions segment was led by Dr Abraham, where academics inquired about the careers of former YHP members, how YHP members carry out their research within research groups, and my personal experiences in engaging with the colonial nature of archives as a student.

Idil pictured speaking at the conference

After this, a discussion was held in smaller groups to round up the events of the conference. I was grouped with three university students from Durham University. They discussed their experiences within their own university, reckoning with how the structure of academic institutions pose challenges to creating a fully “decolonised workspace". We also discussed whether 'decolonisation' was even the right wording to talk about the inclusion of subaltern histories, such as African and Caribbean histories. This discussion affirmed the importance of engaging young people in the preservation of subaltern histories, as YHP’s community has been instrumental in reclaiming academic spaces from colonial structures. 

As the event rounded off to a close, I was satisfied with the precedent that this conference set for the future of inclusive and decolonial historiography. I was grateful to take part in such a productive and intellectually stimulating event!


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