Black and British: A Short Essential History Review

David Olusoga’s new book Black and British: A Short Essential History is a fascinating and accessible introduction to a hugely under-represented but very significant part of British History.

This children’s version of Professor Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History sets out to firmly establish Black History in the story of Britain and its larger place in the world. Beginning with the Aurelian Moors from North Africa who settled Roman communities along Hadrian’s Wall in the first century AD, taking in the establishment of the slave trade during the Restoration, the presence of enslaved people in Britain during the Georgian period, the abolition movement, the reliance of the Industrial Revolution on slavery, the colonisation of Africa by the Victorians, Black soldiers who served during the First and Second World Wars,  institutionalised racism in the second half of the twentieth century, and ending in the modern day with the Windrush Scandal and the 2020 Black Lives Matters protests, this book covers every possible angle of Black history.

Filled with maps and images of the people and places it discusses, this book sets out a huge amount of information very clearly. It is divided into clear chronological sections and communicates complex and difficult material in a way that is informative and accessible. It is aimed at an audience aged 12+ but it is a great introduction for adults as well.

Some of what is contained in Black and British has been discovered in recent years and it is new archaeological or documentary evidence that has uncovered a past which we might not have otherwise known about. But what is really shocking is how much of this Black history has been deliberately withheld from a wider public and, by not including these stories in our curriculum, they continue to be forgotten. It is so important that we acknowledge the abuses that Britain carried out as a slave trading and colonial power, and our failure to do so has laid the foundations of the institutionalised racism which is still entrenched in so much of our society. We need to acknowledge what was done and that it was wrong.

I consider myself fairly well informed about British history but this book showed me how wrong I was and it sets out lots of events that I didn’t know, and surely that shows how much we all need it.

This important book came about in response to renewed calls to make the history of colonialism and slavery a compulsory part of the UK Curriculum and 50p of the price of each copy goes to The Black Curriculum, an organisation which campaigns to ensure that Black British history is a part of the UK curriculum. You can read my previous post about 5 Ways You Can Support The Black Curriculum here.

I hope Black and British: A Short Essential History finds its way into every classroom.

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