Corinne Fowler, Colonial Countryside, Heritage Research and the Culture War – 5 May 2021

We are looking forward to introducing Professor Corinne Fowler for an MCPHH Public Lecture on 5 May 2021, 5.30pm.

Colonial Countryside is a child-led history and writing project guided by a team of historians. The project worked with 100 primary pupils and commissioned 10 writers to produce new stories and poems about 10 National Trust houses’ connections with the East India Company and transatlantic slavery.

Between 2019-2020, Professor Fowler was also seconded to the National Trust to identify houses’ links to empire and to assist with incorporating this information into the historical accounts of relevant properties. The subsequent release of a National Trust report, in September 2020, on its houses’ colonial links, co-authored by Fowler, attracted government attention and led to Parliamentary speeches, two Parliamentary debates, and public expressions of disapproval by government ministers and the then head of the Charity Commission.

In February 2021, 56 Common Sense Group Conservative MPs approached Professor Fowler’s project funders to argue that the project was ‘political’ and therefore should not be given public money now or in the future. In 2021, the Daily Mail and other papers misreported that Professor Fowler’s book, Green Unpleasant Land, said that ‘gardening was racist’, giving her no right of reply and attracting related abuse and threats.

Given the political pressures that she – and other academics in the field – are now experiencing, Professor Fowler considers the implications for academic freedom. What is at stake for us as academics and as universities? Why is this happening and how can we best respond to government and public hostility?

Professor Corinne Fowler directs an Arts Council/Heritage Lottery project called Colonial Countryside: National Trust Houses Reinterpreted. In 2020, she co-edited the National Trust’s report on its country houses’ connections to British colonial history. Corinne is author of Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connections (Peepal Tree Press, 2020).

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