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Olivette Otele announced as first black female history professor in the UK

Recently, Olivette Otele was awarded a professorship and a chair in history by Bath Spa University last month, which has made the Cameroonian the first black history professor and personal chair in the UK.

Speaking on BBC Radio Bristol, Professor Otele said: “It means a lot for me, it means a lot for the black community, for women of minority ethnic groups and it means a lot as well for majority groups.

“It’s kind of bittersweet because we’ve had to wait that long.”

Specialising in collective memory and geopolitics, with a particular focus on the colonial history of Britain and France, Professor Otele holds a PhD in history from Sorbonne University in Paris. She has previously written about the transatlantic slave trade, slave societies, identities and post-colonial societies in the Atlantic world.

Bath Spa vice-chancellor Professor Susan Rigby hailed Professor Otele as “world-class and internationally respected”.

She went on to say that “if this well-merited promotion also plays a small part in correcting the underrepresentation of women and people of colour in UK universities, we are delighted to be able to do this.”

This announcement comes in the wake of recent research by the Royal Historical Society (RHS), which has found a lack of diversity in the teaching of history in the UK.

The findings have revealed the lack of courses regarding the history of migration, ethnicity, race, imperialism and decolonisation, which RHS believes is necessary in “transforming our knowledge and understanding of the British, European and global past”.

It means a lot for me, it means a lot for the black community, for women of minority ethnic groups and it means a lot as well for majority groups.

– Olivette Otele

Professor Otele said that history academia has been a “very conservative and a very closed group,” and attacked the “completely ridiculous” impression that black people cannot study colonialism without bias.

RHS also discovered that fewer than one in 100 history professors working in the UK today is from a black background, in contrast to 94% from a white background, according to RHS findings.

A survey carried out at the same time also suggested that nearly one in three black and minority ethnic historians working in higher education had been directly discriminated against or abused on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

Research has also shown a race gap across subjects and universities, with black academics being considerably less likely to hold senior positions.

Statistics collated by Advance HE, showed that, in the 2016-17 academic year, just 25 black women were recorded as working professors out of around 19,000 professors in total. The study also revealed that in terms of men, more than 14,000 professors were white in comparison to 90 black men who hold the same status.

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