Historians Call for a Review of Home Office Citizenship and Settlement Test

21 July 2020

Historians Call for a Review of Home Office Citizenship and Settlement Test

We are historians of Britain and the British Empire and writing in protest at the on-going misrepresentation of slavery and Empire in the “Life in the UK Test”, which is a requirement for applicants for citizenship or settlement (“indefinite leave to remain”) in the United Kingdom. The official handbook published by the Home Office is fundamentally misleading and in places demonstrably false. For example, it states that ‘While slavery was illegal within Britain itself, by the 18th century it was a fully established overseas industry’ (p.42). In fact, whether slavery was legal or illegal within Britain was a matter of debate in the eighteenth century, and many people were held as slaves. The handbook is full of dates and numbers but does not give the number of people transported as slaves on British ships (over 3 million); nor does it mention that any of them died. It also states that ‘by the second part of the 20th century, there was, for the most part, an orderly transition from Empire to Commonwealth, with countries being granted their independence’ (p.51). In fact, decolonisation was not an ‘orderly’ but an often violent process, not only in India but also in the many so-called “emergencies” such as the Mau-Mau Uprising in Kenya (1952-1960). We call for an immediate official review of the history chapter.

People in the colonies and people of colour in the UK are nowhere actors in this official history. The handbook promotes the misleading view that the Empire came to an end simply because the British decided it was the right thing to do. Similarly, the abolition of slavery is treated as a British achievement, in which enslaved people themselves played no part. The book is equally silent about colonial protests, uprisings and independence movements. Applicants are expected to learn about more than two hundred individuals. The only individual of colonial origin named in the book is Sake Dean Mohamet who co-founded England’s first curry house in 1810. The pages on the British Empire end with a celebration of Rudyard Kipling.

The “Life in the UK Test” is neither a trivial quiz nor an optional discussion point. It is an official requirement in the application for settlement or citizenship and provides essential information about the United Kingdom. The handbook ‘has been approved by ministers and has official status.’ It requires applicants to remember and repeat the information it contains, which is, then, tested in an official multiple choice test. The examination is ‘based on ALL parts of the handbook’, which includes the parts mentioned above.

This publication and its official view of British history is not a left over from the distant past. It is a recent innovation, and some of its most misleading passages date only from the third edition published by the Home Office in 2013 which, with minor updates, remains the official text to this day.

This official, mandatory version of history is a step backwards in historical knowledge and understanding. Historical knowledge is and should be an essential part of citizenship. Historical falsehood and misrepresentation, however, should not.

In 2019, 125,346 individuals applied for naturalisation; almost all will have had to pass the test before applying. Many thousands more took the test in order to settle here. For many, it will have been their introduction to British history. For applicants from former colonies with knowledge of imperial violence, this account is offensive. For those from outside the former Empire without prior education in history, the official handbook creates a distorted view of the British past. For those with a basic knowledge of history, whatever their background, it puts them in the invidious position of being obliged to read, remember and repeat a version of the past which is false. For British citizens in general, the official history perpetuates a misleading view of how we came to be who we are.

The aim of the official handbook is to promote tolerance and fairness and facilitate integration. In its current version, the historical pages do the opposite

As historians we believe in debate, but interpretations of the past have to be based on facts. The distortion of the past is a challenge to democratic culture and liberal values. Historical misrepresentation should not be officially sponsored by the state. We, therefore, urge the Home Office to review the “Life in the UK Test” as a matter of urgency. Until the history chapter has been corrected and rewritten, it should be formally withdrawn from the test.

We welcome support from all members of the historical profession at any stage of their career. If you are a historian and would like to add your name to a list of over 385 historians [as of 05.08.20] in support of a review of the official Home Office handbook for the citizenship and settlement test, please use the this form.

Signatories: 181


Lynn
AbramsProfessor of Modern History, University of Glasgow
WaleAdebanwiProfessor, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford
ShahmimaAkhtarPast and Present Fellow working on Race, Ethnicity and Equality in UK History, Royal Historical Society
SallyAlexanderEmerita Professor of Modern History, Goldsmiths University of London
JocelynAlexanderProfessor of Commonwealth Studies, University of Oxford
RichardAndersonLecturer in Colonial and Post-Colonial History, University of Exeter
EdwardAndersonLecturer in History, Northumbria University
DavidAndersonProfessor of African History, University of Warwick
ClareAndersonProfessor of History, University of Leicester, and Editor of Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History 
NirArielliAssociate Professor of International History, University of Leeds
DavidArmitageLloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History, Harvard University
DavidArnoldFBA, Emeritus Professor of Asian and Global History, University of Warwick
AlisonAtkinson-PhillipsLecturer in Public History, Newcastle University
GarethAustinProfessor of Economic History, University of Cambridge
ManuelBarciaProfessor of Global History, University of Leeds
HannahBarkerProfessor of British History, Director of the John Rylands Research Institute, SALC, University of Manchester
AngelaBartieSenior Lecturer in Scottish History, University of Edinburgh
Huw BennettReader in International Relations, Cardiff University
MaxineBergFBA, Professor of History, University of Warwick
HelenBerryProfessor of British History, Newcastle University
MarkBevirProfessor of Political Science and Director of the Center for British Studies, University of California at Berkeley
EugenioBiaginiProfessor of Modern and Contemporary History, University of Cambridge 
SomakBiswasEarly Career Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies/History, University of Warwick
JoannaBourkeFBA, Professor of History, Birkbeck, University of London
SeanBradyLecturer in Modern British and Irish History, Birkbeck, University of London
John BrewerEli and Edythe Broad Emeritus Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Faculty Associate Harvard University History Department
EmilyBridgerSenior Lecturer in Global and Imperial History, University of Exeter
PeterBrookeDepartmental Lecturer in African History, University of Oxford
AnnaBruzzoneCollege Lecturer in European and World History 1800-present, Oriel College, University of Oxford
TrevorBurnardWilberforce Professor of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull
ElizabethChatterjeeLecturer, Queen Mary University of London
JoyaChatterjiFBA, Trinity College, Cambridge
SimukaiChiguduAssociate Professor of African Politics, University of Oxford
GemmaClarkSenior Lecturer in British/Irish History, University of Exeter
PatriciaClavinFBA, Professor of International History, University of Oxford
MichaelCollinsAssociate Professor of Modern British History, UCL
MattCookProfessor of Modern History, Birkbeck, University of London
MatthewCragoeVisiting Professor, University of Lincoln
TomCrookSenior Lecturer in Modern British History, Oxford Brookes University
Tom CunninghamResearch Fellow, History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
GarethCurlessSenior Lecturer in History, University of Exeter
WilliamDalrympleAuthor
MartinDauntonFBA, Emeritus Professor of Economic History, University of Cambridge
LucyDelapReader in Modern British and Gender History and Deputy Chair History Faculty, University of Cambridge
KatieDoningtonSenior Lecturer in History, London South Bank University
WayneDoolingSenior Lecturer in the History of Southern Africa, SOAS, University of London
ShaneDoyleProfessor of African History, University of Leeds
NicholasDraperFormer Director, Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, UCL
FelixDriverProfessor of Historical Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London
SaulDubowSmuts Professor of Commonwealth History, Cambridge University
HannahEliasLecturer in Black British History, Goldsmiths, University of London
MartinFarrSenior Lecturer, School of History, Newcastle University
DanFeatherLecturer in Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University+C61
DavidFeldmanDirector of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antsemitism, Professor of History, Birkbeck, University of London
MargotFinnProfessor of Modern British History, UCL
RobertFletcherReader in the History of Britain and Empire, University of Warwick
Professor Sir Roderick FloudFBA
RoyFosterFBA, Emeritus Professor of Irish History, University of Oxford, and Professor of Irish History and Literature, Queen Mary University of London
JoFoxDirector and Professor of Modern History, Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London
ChristiennaFryarLecturer in Black British History, Goldsmiths, University of London
LeighGardnerAssociate Professor of Economic History, London School of Economics 
AninditaGhoshProfessor of Modern Indian History, University of Manchester
TimGibbsLecturer, African History, UCL
PaulGilroyProfessor of the Humanities and Founding Director, Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism & Racialisation
EmmaGriffinProfessor, School of History, University of East Anglia
SimonGunnProfessor of Urban History, University of Leicester
NicholasGuyattReader in North American History, University of Cambridge
CatherineHallEmerita Professor of History, UCL, Chair of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership
RyanHanleyLecturer in Modern British History, University of Exeter
DeanaHeathReader in Indian and Colonial History, Department of History, University of Liverpool
SachaHepburnTeaching Fellow in African History, University of Warwick
RachelHerrmannLecturer in Modern American History, Cardiff University
GadHeumanEmeritus professor, University of Warwick
MatthewHiltonProfessor of Social History, Vice Principal (Humanities and Social Sciences), Queen Mary University of London, Co-editor, Past and Present
JulianHoppitFBA, Astor Professor of British History, UCL
AnthonyHoweProfessor of Modern History, University of East Anglia
Jane HumphriesFBA, Centennial Professor, London School of Economics, Emeritus Professor, Oxford University
EmmaHunterProfessor of Global and African History, University of Edinburgh
RichardHuzzeyReader in Modern British History, Durham University
StaceyHyndSenior Lecturer in African History, Co-Director of the Centre for Imperial and Global History, University of Exeter
WillJacksonAssociate Professor of Imperial History, School of History, University of Leeds
Louise A.JacksonProfessor of Modern Social History, University of Edinburgh
Max JonesSenior Lecturer in Modern History, University of Manchester
YasminKhanAssociate Professor of History, Oxford
NickiKindersleyLecturer in Black History, Cardiff University
TonyKushnerProfessor, Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, University of Southampton
JuliaLaiteReader in Modern History, Birkbeck, University of London, Director of the Raphael Samuel History Centre
DavidLambertProfessor of Caribbean History, University of Warwick
PaulLaneJennifer Ward Oppenheimer Professor of the Deep History & Archaeology of Africa, University of Cambridge
MilesLarmerProfessor of African History, University of Oxford
JonLawrenceProfessor of Modern British History, University of Exeter
ElisabethLeakeAssociate Professor of International History, University of Leeds
RachelLeowSenior Lecturer in Modern East Asian History, University of Cambridge
AlanLesterProfessor of Historical Geography, University of Sussex
PhilippaLevine Walter Prescott Webb Chair of History and Ideas and Director, Programme in British Studies, University of Texas at Austin
JamesLiveseyProfessor of Global History, University of Dundee
Tim LivseyVice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in History, Northumbria University
JohnLonsdaleEmeritus Professor of Modern African History, University of Cambridge
PeterMandlerFBA, Professor of Modern Cultural History, University of Cambridge
GerardMcCannSenior Lecturer in Global and African History, University of York
HelenMcCarthyReader in Modern and Contemporary British History, University of Cambridge
KeithMcClellandResearcher, Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, UCL
ClareMidgleyResearch Professor in History, Sheffield Hallam University
MariaMisraAssociate Professor of History, Oxford University
Martin MooreResearch Fellow, Department of History, University of Exeter
RenaudMorieuxReader in British and European History, University of Cambridge
FrankMortProfessor of Cultural Histories, University of Manchester
PhilipMurphyDirector of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies
KalathmikaNatarajanTeaching Fellow in South Asian History, University of Edinburgh
Simon P.NewmanSir Denis Brogan Professor of History, University of Glasgow
PaulNugentProfessor of Comparative African History, University of Edinburgh
PatrickO’BrienFBA, Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics and Former Director of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London
MilesOgbornProfessor of Geography, Queen Mary University of London
DavidOlusogaProfessor of Public History, The University of Manchester 
MeleisaOno-GeorgeAssociate Professor of Caribbean History, Department of History, University of Warwick
Marc-WilliamPalenSenior Lecturer, University of Exeter
DianaPatonWilliam Robertson Professor of History, University of Edinburgh
HelenPaulLecturer in Economics and Economic History, University of Southampton, Honorary Secretary of the Economic History Society
SarahPearsallSenior Lecturer in American and Atlantic History, Cambridge University
Kennetta HammondPerryDirector, Stephen Lawrence Research Centre and Reader in History, De Montfort University
StevenPierceSenior Lecturer in Modern African History, University of Manchester
JessicaReinischReader in Modern European History, Birkbeck, University of London
GiorgioRielloProfessor of Early Modern Global History, European University Institute
MarkRoodhouseReader in Modern British History, University of York
TirthankarRoyProfessor in Economic History, London School of Economics
JanRügerProfessor of History and Head of Department, School of History, Classics & Archaeology, Birkbeck, University of London
AnitaRupprechtPrincipal Lecturer, University of Brighton
JonathanSahaAssociate Professor Southeast Asian History, University of Leeds
LauraSanghaSenior Lecturer in British History, University of Exeter
HilarySapireSenior Lecturer, Birkbeck, University of London
AdityaSarkarAssociate Professor of History, University of Warwick
CatherineSchenkProfessor of Economic & Social History, University of Oxford, President of the Economic History Society 
BillSchwarzProfessor of History & Literature, Queen Mary University of London
ChandakSengooptaProfessor of History, Birkbeck, University of London
LeighShaw-TaylorSenior Lecturer Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century British Economic and Social History, University of Cambridge
AlexShepardProfessor of Gender History, University of Glasgow
SujitSivasundaramProfessor of World History, University of Cambridge, Director, Centre of South Asian Studies, 
GrahamSmithProfessor of Oral History, Oral History Unit and Collective, Newcastle University
MatthewSmithProfessor of History, Director, Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, University College London
LjubicaSpaskovskaLecturer in European History, University of Exeter
GarethStedman JonesFBA, Professor of the History of Ideas, Queen Mary University of London, Director, Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge, Fellow King’s College, Cambridge
SarahStockwellProfessor, Department of History, King’s College London
Julie-MarieStrangeProfessor of Modern British History, Durham University
Jean StubbsCo-Director, Commodities of Empire, British Academy Research Project, University of London
JohnStylesProfessor Emeritus in History, University of Hertfordshire
Florence Sutcliffe-BraithwaiteLecturer in twentieth-century British history, University College London
SimonSzreterProfessor of History and Public Policy, University of Cambridge
NaomiTadmorProfessor, Lancaster University and Chair, The Social History Society
BeckyTaylorReader in Modern History, University of East Anglia
NataliaTelepnevaLecturer in International History, University of Strathclyde
DavidThackeryAssociate Professor in History, University of Exeter
PatThane FBA,Visiting Professor of History, Birkbeck, University of London
MartinThomasProfessor of Imperial History, University of Exeter
NatalieThomlinsonAssociate Professor of Modern British Cultural History, University of Reading
JamesThompsonReader in Modern British History, University of Bristol
JimTomlinsonProfessor of Economic and Social History, University of Glasgow
RichardToyeProfessor of Modern History, University of Exeter
RobertTraversAssociate Professor, Cornell University
FrankTrentmannProfessor of History, Birkbeck, University of London (contact person)
Guidovan MeersbergenAssistant Professor in Global History, University of Warwick
MeganVaughanFBA, Professor of African History and Health, Institute of Advanced Studies, UCL
ChrisVaughanSenior Lecturer in African History, Liverpool John Moores University
JamesVernonProfessor of History, University of California, Berkeley
PippaVirdeeReader in Modern South Asian History, De Montfort University
JelmerVosLecturer in Global History, University of Glasgow
BrodieWaddellSenior Lecturer in Early Modern History, Birkbeck, University of London
Kim A.WagnerProfessor of Global and Imperial History, Queen Mary University of London
DavidWashbrookFellow, Trinity College, Cambridge University
RobWatersLecturer in Modern British History, Queen Mary University of London
RuthWatsonLecturer, History Faculty, University of Cambridge
AnthonyWebsterProfessor in History, Northumbria University
Nicholas J.WhiteProfessor of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Liverpool John Moores University
JerryWhiteProfessor of Modern London History, Birkbeck, University of London
ChristineWhyteLecturer in Global History, University of Glasgow
PhilipWilliamsonProfessor of History, Durham University
JustinWillisProfessor in History, Durham University
PhilWithingtonProfessor in Social and Cultural History, University of Sheffield
Waseem YaqoobLecturer in the History of Political Thought, Queen Mary University of London
HannahYoungLecturer in nineteenth-century British history, University of Southampton
NatalieZacekSenior Lecturer in American Studies, University of Manchester
Nuala ZahediehProfessor of Economic and Social History, University of Edinburgh

Banner image (cropped). Entrance at 2 Marsham Street, Westminster, London, taken by Steph Gray. Understood to be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 2.0

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