Learning about colonialism

Learning about colonialism touches on social, cultural, religious and ethnic fault lines within and beyond Britain. It can stir emotions and cause controversy within and across communities.

For these reasons, whether or not you learned about colonialism in school will depend on when & where you went to school, the knowledge & interest of your teachers and their individual approach to teaching emotive and controversial history.

This challenge is discussed at length in a 2007 report from the Historical Association, where the group agreed on the following statement:

The study of history can be emotive and controversial where there is actual or perceived unfairness to people by another individual or group in the past.

This may also be the case where there are disparities between what is taught in school history, family/ community histories and other histories.

Such issues and disparities create a strong resonance with students in particular educational settings.

Why didn’t I learn about this at school?

If you went to a mainstream school in England in the last 30 years, your education and learning of history will have been shaped by the National Curriculum. Although the National Curriculum aims to provide pupils with “an introduction to the essential knowledge they need to be educated citizens”, focus on colonial history and its present-day impacts may be quite limited.

There are a number of factors that contribute to this:

  • “History” as a subject as part of the National Curriculum in England has been compulsory only until age 14 and no more than 2 hrs a week are allocated to history classes at school.
  • Topics and focus of lessons are determined by the National Curriculum guidelines, alongside teacher’s own areas of interest & expertise – there is no way to generalise “what exactly is taught” in any school.
  • Some topics, such as the rulers of Tudor England, the study of Nazi Germany or The Russian Dictatorship (1855 to 1992) are often repeated at KS3 & GCSE at the expense of time spent on other topics.
  • Teachers may rely on whichever topics are most well resourced, easy to access, or may actively avoid emotive and controversial topics.
  • Teachers may lack confidence in their knowledge about emotive and controversial topics, or training in how to introduce and discuss these topics in the classroom.
  • Decisions may have been made at a national, regional, local, departmental or classroom level about which topics were deemed to be most relevant, important and appropriate for pupils to study – which may, in turn, be informed by other conscious or unconscious biases.

Learning about history in school is also informed by where and when you grew up – the perspective changes depending on what area, country or continent you go to school in; which socio-economic group(s) or identity group(s) you are part of; and what the dominant social, political, economic and cultural norms were at the time you went to school.

There are also disparities between what is taught in school history, family & community history and other histories.


How can I learn about colonialism as an adult?

This is exactly what the North Star Study Group wants to find out!! We want to make it easier for adults to learn about the historical and present-day contexts and impacts of colonialism & colonial activity.

We want to do this in a number of ways, including:

  • meeting up to learn together & discuss things – setting up new events to bring curious people together to share, question and talk about the things they are learning
  • gathering, producing and sharing learning resources – finding & signposting stuff that is available for free online (like videos, webpages, podcasts, e-books, articles)
  • supporting learners through bursaries, special challenges and learning groups – finding creative ways to help encourage curious people learn more about the North Star Study Group’s topics

Would you like to be involved?

You can register your interest in being part of North Star Study Group, or in supporting the project in other ways by filling in a short online form – follow the link below to the form…

North Star Study Group sounds great – sign me up!!

I’ve still got questions…

Here’s a few FAQs – please do get in touch if you have other questions…