University: compulsory BME paper story “not quite right”

In a statement to the Oxford Student, a spokesperson for the University has said that the story saying that the History Faculty would be introducing a compulsory paper on BME history, reported in the Independent, Sun, and initially in this article, is “not quite right”.

Speaking to the Oxford Student, the University has clarified that the change is merely one that will make it compulsory for students to select papers from non-British and non-European option pools, rather than papers specifically on BME topics.

Previously, it had been reported that from Michaelmas 2017, all students studying history would have to study a paper on Black, Asian, Middle Eastern, or Indian history in an effort to make the curriculum less ‘white’ in focus.

In fact, the plan is to make it compulsory for history undergraduates to study a paper that covers neither British nor European topics as part of their degree. Students will select from options that are already available, rather than from new papers that the Independent suggested would have included the teachings of figures such as Martin Luther King, Malcom X, and Mahatma Gandhi.

the University was accused of creating a system whereby disrespect had become monetised

The move comes in the wake of considerable scrutiny of the University’s attitudes to race. Last month, the discrepancy in the value of prizes available for undergraduate history theses on African history, compared to their British history counterparts, came under fire. It emerged that those submitting their thesis for the Arnold Modern Historical British history award can win a prize of £500, while those submitting their thesis for the Kirk-Greene African history award could win a maximum of £75. As a result, the University was accused of creating a system whereby disrespect had become monetised.

The change in curriculum has also been linked to the larger “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign by the national press, despite the History Faculty’s insistence that there was “no link” between the campaign and the changes. Last year, the campaign fought for the removal of the statue of the Victorian Imperialist Cecil Rhodes from the front façade of Oriel College.

On the topic of external pressure, the spokesperson was clear to refute the allegations. “to re-emphasise, contrary to what some in the media have suggested, this is a University-led initiative and was not a response to any kind of campaign or pressure”, they said.

“In particular, it was not a response to last year’s Rhodes Must Fall campaign”.

In particular, it was not a response to last year’s Rhodes Must Fall campaign

“In fact, the curriculum review began a couple of years before RMF had even formed at Oxford”.

In a statement, the History Faculty said “after a number of years of discussion and consultation among ourselves and with students, we have decided to make a number of changes to the curriculum”.

“We are pleased to be modernising and diversifying out curriculum in this way”, the department said.