Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford have hit out at reports of a new compulsory global history course which the University plans to introduce next term.
It had been widely reported that Oxford intends to introduce compulsory non-White and non-European history modules from the next academic term. Some reports emphasised how the move followed criticism of the University’s alleged ‘Eurocentric’ syllabus by Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) and similar campaigns across the country.
Yet the group have hit back, criticising the inadequacies of the course and attacking the University for its continued “narrow and Eurocentric worldview”.
In a Facebook post denouncing the “the deep inadequacies in the British press,” the group said: “There is no new course and the global history module which is now being made compulsory on non-European history includes topics such as Jefferson’s America (the history of European settler colonialism outside of Europe).”
It went on: “The step is in the right direction but the ways that it has been exaggerated have given good press to an institution [Oxford University] which still does not deserve any good press at all.”
RMF also criticised the papers, which will expect undergraduates to sit exams on Middle Eastern, Asian and Indian events, for their ignorance of sub-Saharan Africa. “There is still only one fifth of one paper, (a paper on imperialism and globalisation), in which study of sub Saharan Africa, 1/5 of the world’s land mass, is available. There are 7 different option on the history of the British Isles alone [sic],” the statement said.
“The real question is to why, up until 2017, European history was not compulsory on the syllabus of the world’s supposedly best institutions [sic]. There is still an overwhelmingly white academic body whose research interests gather around a very narrow and Eurocentric worldview.”
RMF rose to prominence in 2015, calling for the removal of a statue of the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College. Oriel announced their intention to keep the statue in January 2016.
Although it had been suggested that the move came in response to pressure from campaign groups such as Rhodes Must Fall and the UCL-founded ‘Why is my curriculum white?’, Oxford has insisted that there is “no link” to the RMF campaign.
“It is just formalising what is in effect student practice,” said Martin Conway, professor of contemporary European history and chair of the Oxford History Faculty. “It was all done and dusted before anybody noticed Cecil Rhodes standing on top of a building.”
In their statement, RMF made a series of recommendations for a “decolonised university”, including “a broad and diverse range of staff”, a curriculum which looks at “different traditions [and] places with different worldviews”, and the implementation of an “honest and rigorous dealing with the histories of colonialism, imperialism and racism”.
The statement concluded: “Oxford still falls short in every one of these metrics by a very long way.”
RMF is not the only group to highlight the University’s alleged ‘Eurocentrism’. In April, Billy Nuttall, a history student at Magdalen, launched a crowdfunding campaign to make up a difference of over £400 between Oxford’s History dissertation prizes for British and African research pursuits.
Oxford has also come under attack for the small number of black undergraduates it enrols. In January, the University faced criticism after data revealed that just 45 black applicants were made an offer in 2016.
Asked for a response to RMF’s criticism, a History Faculty spokesperson told Cherwell: “As the History Faculty has already stated, the current reforms to the curriculum are part of an ongoing process of updating and adapting our curriculum. We pay attention to students’ views but we are also guided in these changes by our own discussions. The most recent reforms were the result of an internal process of consultation which began in 2013 and was concluded in 2015.
“We share with many of those who have commented on these issues in the last few days an aspiration to create a diverse and lively curriculum that speaks to a wide range of approaches to History.
“As a faculty, we are fully committed to ensuring diversity among our students and postholders. We have a Race Working Group, and in 8th Week of this term we shall be holding a teach-in for all members of the faculty who wish to discuss these issues more fully.”