Decolonising the Curriculum


Understanding and dismantling barriers to BAME student success (Nicola Abram)

Dr Nicola Abram (Lecturer in Literatures in English, University of Reading, UK)

This paper will report on two recent projects designed to support black, Asian and minority ethnic (UK and international) students of literature and languages at the University of Reading.

The 2018/19 project ‘A Thousand Words: Student Life Through a Lens’ adopted the PhotoVoice method ( to give BAME students in all years of undergraduate study a platform to present their experiences of university life to staff and other students, helping the Department – and, therefore, the University – to better understand the challenges faced. The resulting photographs were temporarily exhibited in the University Library and are now permanently displayed in the Department of English Literature, as well as online at The project identified the paradox of BAME students’ simultaneous hypervisibility and invisibility within an institution, department and discipline that are predominantly white. Findings clustered around the power of voice and the importance of belonging to an institutional and disciplinary identity.

A follow-on project running in 2019/20 aims to cultivate BAME student community in the Department of English Literature, through a programme of informal meet-ups, panels of recent graduates, motivational workshops with external guest facilitators, and bespoke study enhancement sessions. This new network is run in partnership with two final year undergraduate students. It acts to centre BAME students within the Department of English Literature – that is, to acknowledge and value their constitutive presence – and to disrupt the reified whiteness of the Department and the discipline, diversifying both to the benefit of all.

Through reflection on the lessons learned, contextualised with information on the ethnicity attainment gap, this paper will suggest some possibilities and priorities for departments of literature and languages in UKHE.

Decolonising the Curriculum: Teaching Across Continents (Clara Dawson and Jessica R. Valdez)

Dr Clara Dawson, Lecturer in Victorian Literature, University of Manchester (permanent) and Dr Jessica Valdez, Assistant Professor in School of English, The University of Hong Kong (tenure-track)

This paper will engage with the Decolonising the Curriculum strand. It will present Valdez and Dawson’s collaborative pedagogical practice on a 2019/20 module on Global Victorians, taught simultaneously at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Manchester. Drawing on recent research on pedagogy and decolonising the curriculum, the paper will examine how our collaborative pedagogical experiment puts this research into practice.

The module assesses group projects which invite students to collaborate across the continents. Small groups of students at respective institutions create a factsheet about an object in a museum in each city pertaining to empire or global trade. They exchange factsheets and then create a podcast comparing and contrasting objects from both cities. By opening up students to the experiences of their counterparts on a different continent (one set of students studying in the industrial heart of the British Empire, another in a city created and shaped by the Empire), we aim to encourage students to reflect on how their views and subjective positions on Empire have been shaped by the cities they live in. We respond to Mignolo and Walsh’s call ‘to open consideration about the ways in which subjects, peoples, and movements who live the colonial difference not only act but also produce knowledge and construct theory’ (2018, p. 28). Museums are a key site for the production of knowledge and comparing the presentation of museum objects in Manchester and Hong Kong will enable students to critically interrogate the construction of colonial and postcolonial identities. By creating a horizontal plane across which students in different continents communicate, we eschew any sense that we as teachers ‘are in possession of a decolonial universal truth’ (Mignolo & Walsh, p. 1), instead enabling peer-to-peer learning.

The module will run for the first time in Spring 2020 so we will discuss any problems or difficulties that arose in the course of the module, the benefit to students as perceived by students themselves (via formal module feedback) and as perceived by us, in terms of the quality of assessments produced. The structure of the paper will be as follows:
5 minutes: outline the module and collaborative assessment methods.
10 minutes: explore how the module responds to and carries forward pedagogical research in decolonising the curriculum.
5 minutes: problems and benefits of our approach.

Teaching Post-millennial Indian genre fiction in India with Generation Z: de-colonising the Curriculum from within? (Emma Dawson Varughese)

E. Dawson Varughese, independent scholar (UK) and Snr Fellow Manipal Centre for Humanities, India

This paper reports on the pedagogical and socio-cultural concerns of teaching post-millennial Indian genre fiction (in English) to/with Generation Z in a South Indian university. Teaching on a BA Humanities degree where students major in English, this paper questions what it means to teach ‘English’ as a subject at a HE institution in India in the post-millennial years and relatedly, how ‘Indian genre fiction in English’ contests ideas of ‘Indian literature in English’ that have historically (and predominantly) represented the ‘English’ degree curriculum in the country. The paper also explores how ideas of Indianness read in and through the genre fiction texts further complicate notions of the Humanities major as ‘English’, asking questions about Indian reader reception, domestic circulation of core texts and representations of ‘Indianness’.

“Things Fall Apart, the Centre Cannot Hold: Decolonizing African histories and futures – a literary feminist perspective” (Aretha Phiri)

In an article entitled, ‘True African literature is crucial in helping the real Africa to emerge’ (2018), Hans Pienaar paraphrases writer and academic, E. E. Sule’s, criticism of an “African writing scene that is not really African.” While Sule’s sentiments are ostensibly aligned with contemporary global south decolonial imperatives, (African) literary criticism’s characteristic inclination towards identitarian discourse reveals its continued operation within racially over-determined and parochial, purist and nativist – imperialist – paradigms.

Indeed, recent criticisms that African diasporic literature is not conversant with “African everyday life” (Harris 2014) and is, “by definition, less specifically textured” (Ojwang and Titlestad 2014), have their antecedents in the inaugural African Writers Conference convened in June 1962 at Makerere University in Uganda in order to deliberate the efficacy of African literature written in English post colonialism. Dominated by male scholars, the notable absence of female writers in these discussions was here compounded by Obiajunwa Wali’s cynical essay the following year entitled, “The Dead End Of African Literature?” (1963). Arguing for “the development of a truly African sensibility” that needed necessarily to counter a growing body of extroverted, ‘Western-oriented’ literature, the essay’s disturbingly gendered and sexualized discourse set the tone for what is today a worrying tendency in academic circles to reassert heteronormative and heteropatriarchal, potentially exclusory hierarchies in the ideological and discursive delineation of African histories and futures.

Building on Taiye Selasi’s provocative talk entitled, ‘African Literature Does not Exist’ (2013) and in which she problematizes the (ethno-taxonomic) exigencies of both the literary establishment and the publishing industry, this paper attempts to probe the limits and prospects, in/for the twenty-first century, of African literature(s). Exploring the articulation of a defiant and disruptive shift in ideological focus and tenor, the paper proposes that a burgeoning corpus of literature written in English by women writers in the African diaspora reflects and presents, in the contemporary moment, an-other, alter-native, decolonial feminist initiative and imperative that speaks to the diversity and creativity of African materialities and visions. In a reading of selected fiction by Afrodiasporic women writers and examining its ability to undermine and even upend history as a (masculine) positivist practice, the paper examines the ways in and extent to which this writing could be said theorize African histories and futures otherwise.

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