By Dan Lyndon
At this year's SHP conference I co-presented a plenary, 'Working with academics to mainstream Black and Asian British History', with fellow History teacher Martin Spafford, alongside academics Hakim Adi and Caz Bressey. We are all members of the Black and Asian Studies Association (www.blackandasianstudies.org), an organisation that has campaigned for an increase in the amount of multicultural British History taught in schools and universities. A question that I have often been asked is why I have an interest in this subject. My response has always been the same – it is about equality. For centuries the writing and teaching of History had been dominated by 'dead, white men'. The first challenge to the orthodoxy came in the late 1950s with the emergence of 'history from below', which focused on the histories of working people. The subsequent emergence of women's history and the histories of minorities finally began to reveal the stories that had previously been 'hidden from history' (Sheila Rowbotham, 1975). My own experiences of studying history at school had followed the traditional path, heavily laden with political heavyweights such as Gladstone and Disraeli, and dominated by events such as the Corn Laws and Irish Land Reform. It was when I went to Sussex University that I was able to break out of the Anglo/Eurocentric history lock and discover that there was another world out there.
After three years of African History I was totally unprepared for my re-entry into schools history, still dominated by 1066 and all that, but keen to do something to break the mould. Early attempts focused on celebrating Black History Month with assemblies and displays highlighting prominent individuals (not much history from below there!). However it was becoming Head of Department that provided the opportunity to really make a difference. Schemes of work were adapted so that the history of Black and Asian people in Britain flowed throughout, acknowledging a presence that has existed for 2000 years. I remember vividly a discussion that I had with teachers on the TES forum many years ago in which one contributor argued that if they were going to teach about the black sailors in the British fleet at the battle of Trafalgar (there are records of black sailors in the Royal Navy as far back as 1595), this would only be a '10 second' comment in the lesson before moving on to 'the more important stuff'. Whilst fundamentally disagreeing with the latter part of the comment, the former led me to the conclusion that diversity needs to be 'dripped' into the curriculum at regular intervals to normalise it. So now my students learn about Walter Tull as part of their work on the First World War, about William Cuffay as part of their work on the Chartists and about the attempted expulsion of the Blackmoores during the reign of Elizabeth I. I'll also throw in the 10-second comments about John Blanke, the Black trumpeter at the court of Henry VIII, William Davidson the Cato St conspirator, Claudia Jones, 'mother' of the Notting Hill Carnival, and many others.
My last Ofsted inspection as Head of History was in 2007 and the lead inspector for the school happened to be a History specialist. In our interview we had a long discussion about making History relevant. I would argue that in a modern multicultural society the history that is taught in schools has to reflect the long history of Black and Asian presence in Britain in order to make it relevant to our students. However my final words belong to one of my students who stated that, 'For me, history should tell you everyone’s point of view'.