Decolonising UK Earth Science pedagogy - from the hidden histories of our geological institutions to inclusive curricula

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hull


The dominance of western Earth Sciences (i.e. geology and geosciences) discourses continues to (re)appropriate the contributions of the 'Other-indigenous' populations. At the end of the 18th century rocks, minerals and ores were considered part of the broad domain of natural history. Geology's status as a discrete academic activity remained underdeveloped but became fashionable as a scientific pursuit amongst European elite classes. Geology as an academic discipline emerged as a specialised branch of science by the colonial state, as a distinct scientific and exploitative discipline. The foundations of the discipline, and the institutions that arose during this time, benefitted from and perpetuated resource extraction, knowledge extraction and was an essential tool for Imperial expansion.

The historical utilitarian identity of geology over the years remains and reinforces an ongoing bias for the subject. The narrative of geology is one that is still a science for extraction - of mineral resources, of rare fossil specimens, of data and knowledge. This is amply demonstrated in the prioritisation of practice, production, and profit across all its reports. While detailing extraction processes, documenting quality of products, and describing the search for new deposits, and other geological phenomena (e.g. fossils) what remains absent from the discourse is the contribution of nameless and more importantly faceless individuals who were the key interlocutors and explorers in this Imperial enterprise. A look at the documents and reports to promote geological education reinforces this airbrushing of engagement of local or indigenous participants and their knowledge.

This form continues even today. The colonial legacy of Earth Science is not known or understood by many practitioners of the discipline today - that we cannot study colonialism without geology, nor geology without colonialism. The influence of this hidden history on university curricula adds to the perception (and reality) of Earth Science as a white, western dominated subject and enhances the hostile environment often cited for the continuing lack of diversity in the discipline. Thus, tackling these two key issues are essential for improving the diversity of those entering and being retained within Earth Science education, research and work.

This project aims to work towards resolving these issues by (1) collaboratively exploring the unrecognised knowledge upon which the foundational institutions of Earth Science is built and how this legacy creates modern day inequity in our discipline and (2) to begin dismantling this inequity by taking a decolonising Earth Science pedagogy and curriculum approach. We partner with the British Geological Survey, the Geological Society of London, the Royal Geographical Society - IBG, and include representatives from Diversity in Geoscience-UK and Black in Geoscience in order to co-create knowledge and resources to drive sector-wide change. Our interdisciplinary team comprises expertise from history, geology, geography, pedagogy and historical geography. We are a team that also is gender diverse and centres two early career researchers from historically excluded groups, who have intersectional identities. The project will train these ECR in new skills and support their career development.
Description Extension of Decolonising UK Earth Science Pedagogy 
Organisation British Geological Survey
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution To work specifically on work revealing the hidden histories of the BGS and provide infographics on decolonising the BGS.
Collaborator Contribution n/a
Impact n/a
Start Year 2023
Description Talk for the Lapworth Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Title:
Hidden Histories in the Lapworth Archive

Thursday 26th January

The Lapworth Museum of Geology, University of Birmingham
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
Description Wilberforce Institute Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Telling Stories of the Hidden Colonial Histories of Our Geological Institutions published on Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull blog site
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022