We Want the Diversity We Were Promised: An Open Letter to the KCL History Department

Ruva Takawira is a second year History student at KCL. In this piece she writes an open letter to the staff of the History Department regarding the dissertation modules offered to one of the largest humanities degrees here at King’s. Her open letter highlights more than simply a frustrating departmental rearrangement, but the colonial legacy that the study of history holds that King’s is continuing to perpetuate. If you are a student at KCL, please read to the bottom of this piece to lend your voice to a petition to be presented to the staff of the History Department.

  1. Romans and Barbarians: The Transformations of the Roman West 350-700 
  2. Caribbean Intellectual History C.1800 to the Present
  3. Australia in the Second World War: Strategy, Politics and Diplomacy 
  4. The Enlightenment  
  5. Political Culture in the Twentieth-Century United States
  6. Between Kaiser and Fuhrer.  Political Culture and Authority in Germany, 1916-1934 
  7. Defining Race and Culture: Understanding Human Difference from the Enlightenment to Genetics 
  8. Culture Wars. Religion and Politics, c.1780-1880
  9. Sensing the Renaissance, 1400-1650
  10. The Making of Independent India, 1945-67
  11. Worlds of the French Revolution, 1780-1830
  12. Young Lives: Growing Up in Liverpool, London, Melbourne and Sydney, 1870-1970
  13. The Global Cold War
  14. Ireland: Politics, Culture and Nationalism, 1880-1923
  15. Cultures of History in Modern Britain
  16. The Never-Ending War: Britain and the Second World War, 1939-2016 
  17. The Inquisition in the World: Racism and Minorities

Dear Department of History,

  I am writing to explain why so many students going into third year are fundamentally disappointed with the dissertation modules presented. May I start by outlining that students at other institutions, and even at Kings – for example, in the Geography department – are able to write their dissertation on anything within the remit of their subject, rather than attempting to find a niche in 17 limited areas of study. To this end, if the history department insists on tying our dissertations to chosen third year modules, perhaps aligning a dissertation with a thematic module would be more appropriate. This enables students to choose a topic from a much broader range of material.

  “Global reach – spanning Britain, Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa and Australia” is what the teaching of our university’s history department is renowned for. These words are proudly written on our website. This is despite a lack of variety that has left so many students disappointed. This year’s third year dissertation modules choices erase any significant study on both Africa and the Arab World. Perhaps you thought that two modules on race were sufficient to diversify the curriculum, however, despite two modules concentrating on Australia, they fail to consider their indigenous peoples. The Middle Ages are largely negated. There are no studies into queer history. There is no economic history. There is no history of science, technology, or medicine. The history of China has not been neglected, but utterly rejected. Despite 17 module choices, students are left with overwhelming chasms in study beyond European, British, and ex-colonial study.

  Had this been a stand-alone 30 credit module, I doubt that the lack of variety would have been so stifling, however, for single honours students, this module is worth 60 credits in our final year. Consequently, this represents over a quarter of our degree grades, and to expect students to write 10,000 words on topics that fail to adequately cater to a range of broad interests does little to incentivise concentrated individual study.

  Certainly, students are able to choose a Free-Standing Long Essay (FSLE), however, I am sure that a number of students prefer, and work better under taught supervision, or perhaps enjoy seminar discourse, and do not want to take on 2 dissertations in their final year. Moreover, if this is the only way a considerable percentage of the student body are able to investigate their preferred field this speaks volumes to the failings of King’s to provide a “diverse curriculum – incorporating the histories of, and scholarship by, traditionally under-represented groups.” These are the words emblazoned on the King’s website as cornerstones of teaching and research.

  Ultimately, beyond preparing us to fluently teach the mainstream syllabi of primary to secondary school level history, the given module choices provide little scope for a broad range of interest. Indeed, in recent years, there has been a move to de-colonise university curricula, yet this institution is attempting to enforce the history of Western Europe & Britain and/or her colonies on us for our most independent and researched body of work. I can only hope that this letter has encouraged you to revise this decision.

  I understand that these modules were not intended to appear so narrow, and that a lot of effort went into choosing these fields of study, but please consider that students want to learn about a wide range of topics. In the final year of our degrees, our genuine frustration is born out of a desire to investigate areas previously inaccessible to us. I hope you can understand this and our motive to pursue a diverse portfolio of study.

Yours Sincerely,

Ruva Takawira. 

Please sign here and attend TOMORROW’S long table discussion hosted by Decolonise KCL to to make your voice heard.

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