Rhodes Must Fall: Oxford hasn’t done enough to deserve this good press

This comes after media praise for Oxford finally introducing one compulsory non-European history module

Rhodes must fall has attacked Oxford’s new non-European history paper, saying that while it is “in the right direction” it still perpetuates the university’s “narrow and Eurocentric worldview”.

The University of Oxford has been criticised by campaign group Rhodes Must Fall for their new university wide global history course which is planned for the start of next year. Rhodes Must Fall (RMF) came to the forefront of political campaigning in 2015 in their campaign for the removal of statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist, which still stands on the outer wall of Oriel College, facing the High Street.

The university will supposedly bring in compulsory non-White and non-European history modules for next term, the first time that undergraduates will be required to study non-European history. This move seems to have been a reaction to Rhodes Must Fall’s claim that the history course is heavily “Eurocentric”. However, the amendment has received a backlash as the campaign group views it as equally inadequate and a continuation of the “narrow and Eurocentric worldview” instilled by the university.

The group stated on Facebook that “There is no new course and the global history module which is now being made compulsory in non-European history includes topics such as Jefferson’s America (the history of European settler colonialism outside of Europe)”, which went on to say “[t]he step is in the right direction but the ways that it has been exaggerated have given good press to an institution which still does not deserve any good press at all”.

They stressed the university’s failure to teach subjects on the sub-Saharan Africa in lieu of a focus on the Middle East, Asia and India. Rhodes Must Fall argued that the history of “one fifth of the world’s land mass” is only examined in “one fifth of one paper, (a paper on imperialism and globalisation)”, despite the fact that “[t]here are seven different option on the history of the British Isles alone [sic]”.

The campaign group challenged the prestigious University as to why there has not been compulsory modules on European history. Moreover, they criticised the “overwhelmingly white academic body” for their consequentially Eurocentric outlook and lack of racially diverse research.

There have been implications that the change of syllabus was initiated by the bad press received from campaigning groups, such as RMF, UCL’s “Why is my curriculum white” and the crowdfunding campaign, set up in April by Billy Nuttall, to boost the prizes awarded for dissertations on African history. The university has, however, denied such claims.

Martin Conway, chair of the Oxford History Faculty and professor of contemporary European history, claims that “It was done and dusted before anybody noticed Cecil Rhodes standing on top of a building” and he referred to the change as “formalising what is in effect student practice”.

A History Faculty spokesperson, in an interview with Cherwell, said that “the current reforms to the curriculum are part of an ongoing process of updating and adapting our curriculum”. They also mentioned the reforms which took place between 2013 and 2015 and their aspirations “to create a diverse and lively curriculum that speaks to a wide range of approaches to history”, which are coming into fruition, such as the Race Working Group.

Rhodes Must Fall responded with suggestions to change the narrow syllabus, such as a “broad and diverse range of staff” and a closer focus on “different traditions” and “places with different world views”. The group instructed that there was a lack of “honest and rigorous dealing with the histories of colonialism, imperialism and racism”, concluding by saying that Oxford fell short on these accounts “by a very long way”.

The university has also been recently criticised for its waning number of black undergraduates, as only 45 black applicants were offered a place in 2016.

 

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