A group of Black nurses ready to serve in WWII

History Faculty sets up new Black History thesis prize

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Image Description: A group of Black nurses ready to serve in WWII

Oxford has set up a new prize for the best thesis on Black History. The Final Honours School Board of Examiners decides the winner of the prize, who will be awarded £250, starting from this year.

The prize will be named after Barbara D. Savage, who was a visiting professor in American History at Oxford from during the 2018-2019 academic year. Savage, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is currently writing a biography on Merze Tate, with the faculty noting that Tate was ‘one of the Black women academics of her generation, and was the first African American woman to attend Oxford’.

Ms Savage told The Oxford Student: ‘The new Black History Thesis Prize is a step toward making this field more visible at Oxford.  Black history offers opportunities for exciting new research across time and space.  The prize also signals that Black lives mattered in the past, too.  History always teaches us about the present.  We cannot understand the nexus between racial legacies of the past and the pressing current moment without knowing that history. 

I am excited that the prize will encourage Oxford students to explore black history with the creativity and commitment I saw during my time there as Harmsworth Professor in 2018-2019. It honours the field in which I work and am humbled that it bears my name.’

When asked about the process of establishing the prize, the History Faculty said they ‘held a town-hall meeting, consulting with students to ask what we could do to make the teaching of history more diverse and inclusive and to advance race equality.  Creating the Black history thesis prize was something that we realised we could do right now, this year, to make explicit recognition of the excellent work of our students in the field, and it signals that the Faculty is committed to further change’.

This news is a development from 3 years ago when the faculty was scrutinised for the best British History thesis being awarded £500, whilst the best thesis in African History received £75. After a student outcry, the prize money was increased to £150.

Moreover, the announcement of the prize comes at a time when students across the humanities have called for diversifying the curriculum. Many petitions point out a desire to amplify the voices of historically marginalised groups, with an open letter to the Philosophy faculty noting that only 5% of readings are written by BAME authors, and in a similar vein, only 10 of the 93 texts recommended to Politics students were authored by women.