Histories of a global university: exploring empire at the University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham has always been a global university. This project explores the entangled histories of education and empire that our institution exemplifies. 

We seek to use our collections to provoke and consider hard questions.

  • How can we understand the University in the context of histories of empire and colonialism?
  • How has the University made use of resources in colonized spaces – for example, in its focus on mining, or in its development of scientific collections? How might this inform current conversations about science and climate?
  • What has been the role of students from colonized countries and, later, Commonwealth countries at the University? How has the University interacted with colonial and Commonwealth migrants in the West Midlands? 
  • What materials does the University hold currently from former colonies, and how might we think about approaching such collections from a decolonial perspective? What light do our archival collections shed on the governance of empire and on the development of the Commonwealth?  

A team of our postgraduate researchers is working in University collections and archives, including the Lapworth Museum’s holdings relating to mineral exploitation; the Danforth Collection and the cataloguing and contextualization of a new donation of Nigerian masks; and Redbrick and other University archival holdings relating to student and staff engagement with the empire and Commonwealth.

Research team 

Engagements and outputs

In connection the University’s preparations for the Commonwealth Game 2022 we will hold the following events:
  • 14 March: presence in the Great Hall for Commonwealth Day
  • Date TBA: ‘Entangled Histories’ roundtable at the Exchange.

We are also planning a series of workshops with students, details to be confirmed.

 Photo credit: UA10/45, University Archive, Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham