The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2021 | Race, solidarity and campus life: A study of three Bloomsbury colleges 1956-1982
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Race, solidarity and campus life: A study of three Bloomsbury colleges 1956-1982

Principal Supervisor: Dr. Eleanor Newbigin

Co-Supervisor: Dr. Georgina Brewis

Project Description:


Recent calls to ‘decolonise the university’ have opened new avenues to consider the historical relationship between universities and British colonialism. These calls have highlighted the ways in which historical legacies of colonialism inform buildings, institutional spaces and disciplinary practices but also day-to-day experiences of students and staff. Historians have explored the legacies of colonialism for institutional structures, personnel and the origins of particular disciplines (Pietsch, 2013, Chakrabarti, 2015, Stockwell, 2018). Other research has considered left-wing student protest, anti-colonial and solidarity activities on UK campuses (Hoefferle, 2013; Burkett, 2014). However, this timely and important study contributes to this debate from a different angle, seeking to set these histories of anti-imperialist and anti-racist solidarity movements and struggle against a background of every-day campus life. It will contribute to a growing project seeking to re-evaluate the role of students within British society and to place greater emphasis on everyday student life rather that activism per se. It builds on studies of earlier colonial students (Mukerjee, 2010; Matera, 2015) to further explore the largely hidden experiences of Black and Asian students on post-war UK campuses.

Aims and Objectives

Through a focus on three Bloomsbury colleges of the University of London (SOAS, IOE and UCL), this project seeks to uncover histories of anti-imperialist and anti-racist struggle as part of wider post-war student associational culture. A key aim of the project is to reveal and analyse the tension and disconnect between intellectual debates and political campaigns against racism organised on campus on the one hand, and racialised students’ day to day experiences of discrimination on the other. Unlike much research on students that focus solely on the sixties, this project covers a longer period from 1956, the year of the Hungarian Uprising and Suez Crisis, through the 1960s which saw the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 and gradual differentiation of international student fees until full cost international fees were brought in 1981/2. This was a period of significant growth and diversification in UK higher education set against a backdrop of broader social change, Cold War tension and decolonisation which impacted on university campuses in varied ways.

The project traces the development of student networks and politics of international solidarity in the three colleges over this period. The research will read this history of organisational struggle against a history of everyday racism and resistance on London campuses themselves, looking at the daily experiences of students of colour in lecture halls as well as the halls of residence, common rooms and other leisure spaces they inhabited. Indicative research questions are:

·       What was the lived experience of students of colour at our three case study colleges in the period? What were their experiences of campus life, residential accommodation and involvement in student associational culture (student unions, clubs, societies and sports teams)?

·       How was political solidarity with racialised/colonial groups imagined and articulated by student organisations in this period, and how was this informed by ideas of race and colonialism?

·       How was this politics of solidarity experienced by students of colour on campus?

·       How and in what spaces were these politics of solidarity practised? What student spaces were included or excluded?


Sources and methods

The project will adopt a mixed methods approach. First, it will identify and analyse documentary material preserved in the institutional archives of the three case study colleges as well as the University of London/University of London Union archive at Senate House. Sources include institutional and student records but also, more significantly, student-produced newspapers or handbooks and the papers of student unions and related social, religious, political and sporting associations. Additional sources may be found in the NUS archives at the Modern Records Centre, Warwick. Second, the project will gather data through a series of witness seminars (oral history group interviews) with alumni of all three colleges. For each seminar, a sample of students of colour, student union leaders and activists will be identified, working with alumni offices where necessary to recruit participation. These seminars will be recorded in front of an audience and fully transcribed, providing a resource for future research that will also be deposited in the colleges’ archives. The student will receive full training and support in this innovative methodology.


Outcomes, networks and engagement

We would expect the eventual PhD thesis to be a publishable research monograph and/or series of articles. The project also provides key opportunities for public engagement activities and training, including in relation to forthcoming bicentenary celebrations at UCL and Birkbeck. The successful candidate will be embedded into networks of research and teaching at SOAS, IOE and UCL that explore the colonial legacies of these institutions. The candidate will be encouraged and supported to develop the project in conversation with contemporary discussions about decolonising and antiracism in the University of London campuses.

We hope the student will contribute regular blog posts for IOE, SOAS, and other outlets and be supported to present their research at relevant academic conferences and seminars – with at least one article in development by the end of the period of study. In addition to the witness seminars which serve both as sites of data collection and knowledge exchange, the project will organise a one-day conference on twentieth-century student activism and associational cultures. This will disseminate key project findings as well as help build a researcher community. The student will also be supported to develop a programme of engagement activities with student unions and student communities, as part of a wider programme of activities in which both supervisors are involved.

Subject Areas/Keywords:

histories of education, decolonise, race, post-imperialism, student politics, anti-racism and internationalism

Key References:

Burkett, J. 2014, 'The National Union of Students and transnational solidarity, 1958–1968', European Review of History, pp. 539-555.

Chakrabarty, D. 2015, The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath Sarkar and His Empire of Truth, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.

Hoefferle, C. 2013 British Student Activism in the Long Sixties, New York & Abingdon: Routledge.

Matera, M. 2015, Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century, Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Mukerjee, S. 2009, Nationalism, Education and Migrant Identities: The England-Returned, New York & Abingdon: Routledge.

Pietsch, T. 2013, Empire of scholars: Universities, networks and the British academic world, 1850–1939, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Stockwell, S. 2018, The British End of the British Empire Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal Supervisor: Eleanor Newbigin (

Co-Supervisor: Georgina Brewis (


Further information about PhDs at  SOAS     is available from:



Application process:

1) Admissions Application: 26th March 2021

Apply for the Research Degrees programme: MPhil/PhD in History using SOAS’s online admissions form.

See for information and ‘Apply Online’ link

Further guidance for applying for admission to the MPhil/PhD programme and documents you need to submit is available at

IMPORTANT: Please state in the admissions application that you wish to be considered for the Bloomsbury Colleges PhD Studentship, use the title of the studentship ('Race, solidarity and campus life: A study of three Bloomsbury colleges 1956-1982') as your Supporting Statement/Cover letter Title and state Dr. Eleanor Newbigin as your Principal Supervisor.

Use your Supporting Statement/Cover letter to explain why you are motivated to apply for this particular project, and what skills and experience you will bring to the project. In your Supporting Statement/Cover letter to set out how you would engage with this project based on your previous academic training and experience. You do not need to submit a research proposal for this studentship application; if the system asks you to upload a document here, please upload your Supporting Statement/Cover letter again.

2) Studentship Application: Friday, 26th March 2021.

Apply for the Bloomsbury Colleges Studentship by completing and submitting this studentship application form as soon as possible but no later than Friday, 26 March 2021.

Closing date for applications: 26th March 2021.