Following Our Migration Story's third award win, the project's co-lead, Sundeep Lidher, describes how the concept came about and the impact it is making.
We are delighted that our web resource Our Migration Story: The Making of Britain was awarded a 2019 Guardian University Award, which recognises ground-breaking and inspirational projects at UK Universities.
Our Migration Story is an AHRC-funded project led by the Universities of Manchester and Cambridge, with The Runnymede Trust. The online resource won in the ‘Research Impact’ category, which awards recognition to ‘a research project that demonstrates academic impact through advancing knowledge, or results in measurable benefits to the wider society and/or the economy’.
The win was announced last week at a ceremony hosted by comedian Nish Kumar. Judges noted how impressed they were by the extensive collaboration involved in the project and how Our Migration Story challenges us to think again about what British history is, and who gets counted as part of that story. This recognition marks the third in a series of prizes awarded to the project, following a Royal Historical Society Public History Prize for Best Online Resource in 2018 and a Community Integration ‘Research Champion’ Award in 2017.
Designed as a teaching and learning tool, Our Migration Story draws on the work of more than 80 historians to chart the long and layered history of migration to Britain, from the Roman period to the present day. Through a series of case studies, each driven by key pieces of primary source material, the website presents the stories of the people, ideas and objects, from near and far, which have travelled to shape the British Isles over the last 2,000 years. The site aims to capture the breadth and complexity of the processes which drove these migrations, and which determined patterns and experiences of settlement in Britain.
Coinciding with the introduction of new GCSE modules (from exam boards OCR and AQA) on histories of migration and Empire, the site has a dedicated section for schoolteachers, with downloadable lesson plans, historical enquiries and guidance on how to approach the topic of migration in the classroom. Each case study also includes booklists and links to other useful materials, as well as questions and suggested student activities.
In making the wealth of actors and geographies that make-up ‘British’ history more visible, Our Migration Story presents an alternative reading of our national story. It is one which challenges us to rethink popular, often mythical, understandings of how Britain came to be. The site features histories of ordinary and otherwise marginalised Britons; charts histories of welcome and inclusion, as well as of rejection, exclusion, inequality and violence; and places histories and conditions of global connectedness at its core.
The website is the culmination of over a decade of collaboration between Professor Claire Alexander (Manchester University), Professor Joya Chatterji (Cambridge University) and Runnymede on a series of schools-based history projects. The aim of this work has been to support and encourage the teaching of more expansive, representative and inclusive histories of Britain in classrooms across the country. On this latest project's most recent success Professor Chatterji commented: "I am overwhelmed by the recognition the Guardian has given our work as a team. Creating a resource that encourages debate and discussion of this subject at school has been a difficult but necessary task, particularly in current times: Our Migration Story offers a way to 'decolonise the curriculum' at schools in Britain. I am proud to have been part of this initiative with Claire Alexander at Manchester University and the Runnymede Trust"
Since its launch in September 2016 Our Migration Story has registered more than 112,000 users - 53% (60,000) from the UK. Project co-leads, Dr Malachi McIntosh and myself, have been working closely with schools, teachers, academics, teacher trainers and policymakers across the country. By building partnerships and creating spaces for collaboration and conversation, we’ve been able to disseminate the resource widely and advocate for British histories of migration and Empire to be integrated into the core curriculum on British history in all schools.
Looking back, and in light of the award, Dr McIntosh said: "Winning the Guardian Prize was and remains a surprise. Above all I feel it shows is that there is a wide body of support for curriculum change that extends beyond schools to the general public, including the award’s judges. My experiences as a school teacher and as a university lecturer have convinced me that our history curriculum is not fit for purpose. We need to teach our young people that the history of all the people in Britain is British history. My hope is that this recognition from the Guardian will add energy to ours and others’ efforts to advocate for fuller and more rigorous history curricula that truly reflect our shared past."
There remain, of course, big structural challenges which prevent these histories from being embedded in school curricula on a national scale in meaningful and sustainable ways. Nevertheless, we anticipate that this most recent recognition will raise the profile of Our Migration Story among teachers. We're hopeful that this will, in turn, lead to more young people being given the opportunity to learn about how Britain has been shaped, in all sorts of ways, by all sorts of interactions, with the wider world over time.
At our current Brexit-shaped historical juncture, and as demands for decolonising curricula across schools and universities gain important traction, providing this opportunity for all school children has never felt more necessary and urgent. In fact, it's crucial if young people are ever to make any sense of who ‘we’ are, how we came to be, and where it is that we’re going.
Reflecting on news of The Guardian University Award Professor Claire Alexander said,
"Our Migration Story was a truly collaborative effort, which benefitted from the expertise and generosity of our many contributors, and this award recognises their commitment to changing the debate around what British history is. This matters now more than ever, and we hope this award will encourage schools, teachers and young people to build this into their curriculum, as well as changing the public understanding of British identity as inseparable from two thousand years of migration and settlement."