Academics, students and schoolteachers have met to discuss the lack of undergraduates of African and Caribbean heritage studying history.
The conference, History Matters, looked at why history is one of the least popular subjects for black British students at undergraduate level, and why so few who do study it progress to the postgraduate level.
One possible explanation was a school history curriculum that poorly reflects the population of Britain, said one of the organisers, Hakim Adi, a professor of history at the University of Chichester. Another was a narrow view of the careers that a history degree can lead to, he added.
Professor Adi said that he and others were moved to organise the event, held at the Institute of Historical Research on 25 April, after reports last year indicated that just three black applicants had won places to train as history teachers in 2013.
Citing data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, he said that history is the third-least popular undergraduate subject for black British students, ahead of only agriculture and veterinary science.
The subject is also unpopular at postgraduate level: Professor Adi estimated that there were only 30 black British postgraduates and 10 PhD students in the UK. This is echoed at the level of academic posts, with just a handful of black British academic historians, few of whom have been trained in the UK.
The mismatch “is something that needs to be investigated”, he said.
The conference included panel sessions and discussions about history at all levels of education.
“Things that really came out very strongly were a need to change the history curriculum in schools to make it less Eurocentric and the need to find ways of encouraging more PhD history students [by] supporting them in various ways; it could be by more bursaries or fee-waiving,” said Professor Adi.
He said that there was also too little recognition by schools, students and parents about what jobs a degree in history could lead to.
A support network for black history teachers in schools and a project encouraging students to engage with history outside the classroom were launched at the event.