Academics, Agents and Activists: A history of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1916-2016
John Hollingworth, Gallery Manager and co-curator of ‘Academics, Agents & Activists: a history of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1916-2016’, continues his overview of this fascinating centenary exhibition recently on display at the Brunei Gallery, which showcased material from the incredibly rich archive collections at SOAS – both the School’s own institutional archive and material held by Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library. The exhibition was organized around the tenures of the School’s Directors, with the seventh being that of Colin Bundy.
The Bundy Years, 2001-2006
Professor Colin James Bundy is a South African historian and an influential member of a generation of historians who substantially revised understanding of South African history. In particular, he wrote on South Africa’s rural past from a predominantly Marxist perspective, but also deploying Africanist and underdevelopment theories. He presided over a fruitful period which saw the development of new faculties and centres, major research projects and a new teaching and administration space at Vernon Square.
A large AHRB grant funded the creation of the Centre for Cross-cultural Music and Dance and a further large grant was awarded by the Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund for the creation of the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project to document and research endangered languages around the world. This now has an archive which provides a safe repository for language documentation collections. In the Law Department the first Sir Joseph Hotung annual International Human Rights Lecture was presented by Edward Said in 2003 in conjunction with the inauguration of the Sir Joseph Hotung Programme for Law, Human Rights and Peace Building in the Middle East.
There was a major restructuring of the School during this period with the formation of three faculties and the Geography Departments of SOAS and King’s College, London merged.
“The merger with King’s will create a strengthened and diversified new department. SOAS on its own cannot sustain a Geography Department of requisite size and disciplinary spread. It is, however, important to us that SOAS students can continue to take geography as part of joint degrees.” (Professor Colin Bundy, 2001) In December 2001 SOAS’s Governing Body gave the go ahead for the restructuring of the School into three Faculties – Faculty of Arts & Humanities, Faculty of Languages & Cultures and Faculty of Law & Social Sciences. The new Faculties were seen to be at the heart of the School’s academic strategy and were created from academic departments and centres. They were officially launched on 1st August 2002.
Three new Faculty Deans were appointed: Professor Tom Tomlinson, Dean, Faculty of Arts & Humanities, Professor Graham Furniss, Dean, Faculty of Languages & Cultures and Professor Stephen Chan, Dean, Faculty of Law & Social Sciences.
Student numbers reached over 3000, and in the academic year 2002-03, they originated from 590 different countries. These students were the first to experience the new Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that was being trialled and is now the standard learning and teaching platform used throughout the School. Another major new initiative was the creation of the London Middle East Institute (LMEI) at SOAS which promotes knowledge of all aspects of the Middle East through teaching, research and consultancy and publishes ‘The Middle East in London’. In its first incarnation the institute was located next to the new Japanese-inspired roof garden above the Brunei Gallery which opened in 2001.
In his last year as Director, there were several new developments. SOAS joined the 1994 group of smaller research-intensive universities in the UK and the Library extension was completed. Two new centres also opened which brought in new subject concentrations and partnerships: the London Confucius Institute, with its Chinese partners the Beijing Foreign Studies University and the Centre for Gender Studies which promotes the study of gender in relation to Asia, Africa and the Middle East.