London’s Colonial Her/Histories was a new project for the 2021-22 academic year led by Lucy Panesar and co-hosted by UAL and Wikimedia UK, with the support of the UAL Knowledge Exchange Secondment Scheme. The project invited and supported people to examine London’s colonial her/histories and legacies, through an anti-racist, decolonial lens, and to update public knowledge of this through editing Wikipedia.
Below you can watch recorded discussions and events that took place as part of the project, look at the blog created for our work around the 1911 Festival of Empire and read a detailed description of the project.
This project examined British colonial history on Wikipedia through an anti-racist, decolonial lens, for us to better understand the developments of racialisation, marginalisation and exoticisation within the British colonial era, and the legacies of this today. It promoted the use of online, open-source technologies to engage and empower those who continue to be marginalised within our society and within conventional knowledge production. It took London as its focus, as London was once the centre of the British Empire and has become the home of people from around the world, including former British colonies and dominions.
Many of the buildings, streets and parks used by Londoners today have their roots in imperial achievements, colonial conquest and exploitation. However, there has been very little in our curricula and in the public realm to inform us of this, for us to understand the colonial history of the city and the legacy of this on our lives today. We might find books and academic articles about this if we look, but such sources tend not to inform or influence public opinion. Most people, if they’re curious about a historical topic will Google it and then look on Wikipedia, and while Wikipedia is one of the most visited information sources in the world, it is edited by a very limited demographic. More people, from more walks of life, are needed to edit Wikipedia to ensure that it represents our many her/histories.
UAL students and staff are well placed to be critically interrogating the colonial history and legacy of the city in which we are based, and to be facilitating the development and exchange of such knowledge via Wikipedia, as part of the UAL university strategy and anti-racism action plan. This project built on a UAL Knowledge Exchange Impact Funded project completed in May 2021 which looked at the 1911 Festival of Empire and involved co-editing the Festival of Empire Wikipedia page with LCC student Lydia Wilks and the Crystal Palace Museum. It also built on the partnership developed in 2020-21 between UAL London College of Communication and Wikimedia UK, and the establishment of the LCC Decolonising Wikipedia Network, which supports students and staff to edit Wikipedia through anti-racist and decolonial lenses.
From October 2021 to July 2022, Lucy worked as UAL’s Wikimedian in Residence to:
- Develop an understanding of the role that Wikipedia can play in decolonisation
- Expand the Decolonising Wikipedia Network across UAL
- Prompt and support people to edit and create Wikipedia pages related to London’s colonial her/histories and legacies
This included extra-curricula student workshops, student-staff editathons, and public events on researching London’s colonial history and editing Wikipedia through an anti-racist, decolonial lens. It also included in-curricula activity for students on selected courses, including those at the UAL Creative Computing Institute.
In addition to the partnership with Wikimedia UK, the project also worked with relevant galleries, libraries, archives and museums. This included working in partnership with the South London Gallery for ‘Places never seen: A youth led, digital exploration of the 1911 Festival of Empire’, a satellite project running from October 2021 to March 2022, developed in response to an Opening Archives call. This is supported by The Audience Agency’s Digitally Democratising Archives project thanks to funding from DCMS and the National Lottery, as part of The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s, Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. You can find out more on the dedicated blog here.