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A struggle with history should have a place on the curriculum

In the last few years, national campaigns such as ‘Why Is My Curriculum White?’, alongside local groups such as Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford, have started national conversations about decolonising university curricula. A recent campaign by students at SOAS to shape the university curriculum challenged many assumptions pervading teaching in higher education. Students, paying through the nose for their education with rising debts, want the courses they are taught to better reflect their interests. They want to uncover the histories and traditions which are absent from their course material, and give intellectual space to previously marginalised topics and voices.

Filling a critical gap in research on 20th century political history, it provides a necessary space for the study of global history by focussing on the early revolutionary period in Palestine, in the years following the Nakba – when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled their homes during the 1948 War – until the end of 1982.

This makes a recent initiative by Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations so refreshing. A new British Academy funded online resource, ‘Teaching Contemporary Palestinian Political History’, has been made publicly available on the DPIR website. Filling a critical gap in research on 20th century political history, it provides a necessary space for the study of global history by focussing on the early revolutionary period in Palestine, in the years following the Nakba – when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled their homes during the 1948 War – until the end of 1982. The course introduces a relatively unknown history to the public, making it accessible to younger generations. It contextualises the Palestinian revolution as part of a global anti-colonial movement, which included the famous struggle against apartheid in South Africa by the ANC, as well as the struggles for liberation across Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America in that period. Academics in Oxford have at last heeded the call by students to both offer new teaching resources and to start the process of rethinking core undergraduate papers.

The material is relevant not only to those studying Palestinian political history from 1948 to 1982, but also to those with an interest in anti-colonial movements, the historical processes of decolonisation, the role of civic mobilisation, popular revolutions, progressive political ideas and practices, and internationally connected revolutions. The site doesn’t aim to be comprehensive, but instead conveys the rich traditions of Palestinian revolutionary thought and practice for university students and the wider public. By intertwining pamphlets, essays and theoretical foundations, and popular readings of the period, alongside interviews with those who forged this history, it provides tools for further research, discussion, and scholarly engagement. The use of oral history, and the translation of numerous primary sources, builds on innovative practice in research methods, especially those in emerging global histories. Giving voice to those previously left out of history has been a key demand of the movement for curricula diversification, and something oral history was created as a discipline to provide.

What we find in the new DPIR-hosted resource is a dynamic struggle which poses similar questions to popular movements across time – from the French Revolution to the republican movements of the 19th century, to the anti-colonial and anti-Apartheid movement in the 20th century. We learn that the values of freedom, self-determination and popular sovereignty are not the exclusive property of Western Europe – rather, they are a collective human endeavour. With the insight that a project like this provides, we see the transformative possibilities opened through challenging inherited assumptions in our curricula. The recently launched Teaching the Palestinian Revolution resource opens new global dimensions of scholarship and will be a key resource for students wanting to learn more about rich traditions of ongoing struggles for freedom.

Visit the new website at www.learnpalestine.politics.ox.ac.uk

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