St John’s creates post to research its colonial past

The first post of its kind at Oxbridge, the research will focus on “explor[ing] connections between the college and colonialism".

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St John's College. Kathryn Yengel.

St John’s College has announced the creation of a new research post exploring “St John’s and the Colonial Past”, the first position of its kind to be established at the university.

The two year role as a research assistant will focus on “explor[ing] connections between the college and colonialism, uncovering benefactions to St John’s and the alumni who served in the empire.”

The move follows investigations by American universities into their involvement with the slave trade. In the UK, the University of Glasgow recently published a report on its own ties to slavery, whilst Edinburgh University has undertaken a similar project.

The vacancy posting cites a “drive to ‘decolonise the university’- or, at any rate, to think about the implications of institutional involvement in imperial projects of the past” as the chief motive behind this new research.

It goes on to say that “there are thus compelling intellectual and ethical reasons for institutions of higher education to face up to the role they played in the British Empire.”

The college identifies the goals of the research as the production of “a report and other scholarly publications”, as well as to “set the standard for future work in other institutions.”

After research has been completed, a series of workshops will be held in order to broaden discussion of the topic and to formulate responses to the project’s findings.

The application directly refers to the Rhodes Must Fall campaign as an example of how “institutional involvement in the imperial projects of the past — is now a matter of world-wide scholarly concern.”  

Rhodes Must Fall originated in South Africa and called for the removal of statues of Cecil Rhodes from the Oxford Campus; it was inevitably unsuccessful.

Further information provided by St John’s College describes Oxford’s involvement as various, stating: “Oxford in general helped to educate and train colonial administrators; missionaries; apologists for, and critics, of empire; and significant leaders and creators of newly independent states.”

The post is currently open for applications and the appointee will begin their work alongside Professor William Whyte, leader of the project and Professor of Social and Architectural History, at the start of next year.

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