Last month, pupils from the Senior School attended a Minerva Lecture about the history of the British Empire with guest speaker Professor Kim Wagner
Kim A. Wagner is Professor of Global and Imperial History at the University of London. His work focusses on knowledge, resistance and the forms and functions of colonial violence and cultural (mis-)understanding within the British Empire, and between the Western and the non-Western Worlds more generally. He has written several books, including The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857 and Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre.
According to Professor Wagner, it’s not possible to over-emphasise the self-awareness that we need to have when looking at British history and Britain’s impact on other countries. Excusing the prejudice and actions of figures like Edward Colston and Winston Churchill as being a “result of their time” is not valid because—as Professor Wagner stated—the oppressed citizens of the Empire were also “people of their time” who had to deal with the consequences of racism and imperialism.
“Professor Wagner’s lecture offered a really interesting insight into the legacy of the British Empire that I think would be beneficial for everyone to think about. When we’re sold a particular version of history, it’s really easy for that to cloud our judgement of how we view so many aspects of our lives even now, but you can’t discount things and refuse to keep learning just because so much of our Imperial history has slipped out of living memory. What struck us was Wagner’s explanation of statues in terms of the legacies, principles and deliberate narratives that they represent, both from the point of view of the figures they depict and of those campaigning for the demolition of the statues. It definitely helped us think about history in a more nuanced way, and we are really glad we went!” Ishaabhya and Daisy, Year 12 pupils