Black History Month is an annual celebration of important people and events in the history of the African diaspora. In the United Kingdom the event was first recognised in 1987 and it takes place during the month of October.
London is an important centre for Black History Month, with many events taking place in the capital. On 15 October, the Mayor of London’s Office is organising Africa on the Square. The event takes place in Trafalgar Square and celebrates African arts and culture. There will be a wide range of activities, including live music, fashion shows, an African market, food stalls, plus lots of activities for children.
SOAS University of London has put together its own programme of activities to celebrate Black History Month, including film screenings, academic lectures, and open forums aimed to celebrate literary excellence, poetry, music, film and also to address contemporary issues.
The Centre of African Studies, based at SOAS, is the largest centre of expertise on Africa to be found outside of Africa. The Centre seeks to promote interdisciplinary study, research and discussion on Africa within the University of London, and to advance a wider awareness of African issues.
As part of SOAS’s celebrations of its own centenary, SOAS Director Valerie Amos will be in conversation with playwright and poet Wole Soyinka. They will discuss themes such as the impact and legacy of winning the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature; Nigerian politics, art and political change; racism and the significance of recent movements such as Rhodes Must Fall and Black Lives Matter.
The Department of History at SOAS is holding a History on Film season on the theme of Slavery and the African Diaspora from a Global Perspective.
The film series and panel discussions with the filmmakers propose to make visible people of African descent in the world. By including films from Asia (India and Pakistan) and the Atlantic World (Cuba, Brazil, US, Sierra Leone), the film season aims to throw light on the experience of slavery from a global perspective. Slavery has all too often been studied in isolation from Africa. The focus has mainly been on the North Atlantic world. Indeed, the cultural dimension of diasporas has long been observed in the North Atlantic world, but it has received only scant attention within the context of emancipated slave communities elsewhere.
The films and the discussion panels aim to examine the processes of integration and assimilation in the different African diasporas, and how these communities produce diasporic cultural spheres which today constitute memoryscapes of the history of slavery.
Dr Marie Rodet, Senior Lecturer in the History of Africa at SOAS discusses some of the issues raised during the film season:
What is it that got you first interested in your research topics?
“I was initially working on the history of African female migration in Mali under French colonial rule. While exploring archival documentation in Mali I soon realised that the ‘first migrants’ at the beginning of the twentieth century were not only women but enslaved and formerly enslaved women. This is how I started working on the history of internal slavery in Mali. Internal slavery in French West Africa was abolished in 1905. Enslaved populations, men and women, in colonial Mali and elsewhere used migration to secure their freedom and cut ties with their former masters.”
How does SOAS address issues surrounding colonialism?
“In our history courses we examine how the relations of Europe to the rest of the world have been profoundly shaped by colonialism and a lack of respect of difference. We draw attention to the specific histories of marginalised and oppressed groups as a prerequisite for understanding the power relations of the present.”
What is it that sets apart a History degree at SOAS?
“Studying History at SOAS offers a great opportunity to learn in details about non-European history (Africa, Middle East, Asia) and with specialists highly recognised in the field. ‘Classic’ History degrees elsewhere often cover such topics only marginally. Our degrees attempt to remove Europe from the centre in Global History by adopting a rich and informed comparative perspective.”
“A History degree at SOAS provides students with solid and informed knowledge to analyse the historical roots of current situations in specific regions.”
Within the Department of Languages and Cultures of Africa at SOAS, it is possible to study Swahili, Somali, Amharic, Zulu, Hausa and Yorùbá, plus study African literature in English and in African languages, and also African film, religion and philosophy.
At undergraduate level, degree programmes are available at SOAS on BA African Language and Culture and BA African Studies; combined degrees in BA African Studies and… and BA Swahili and…; and at postgraduate level, degrees on MA African Literature and MA African Studies.