Portrait of Esta-Rose Nyeko-Lacek smiling against blue backdrop

Esta-Rose Nyeko-Lacek

“After a successful application, I undertook one of the LITE Student Research Experience Placements during which I carried out research into decolonising reading lists. I worked closely with library staff at the University of Leeds and my discussions with them greatly shaped my investigations.

I wanted to carry out the placement as decolonising the University's reading lists is extremely important. As a black woman, I have had the first-hand experience of not seeing myself reflected in the reading lists. It has meant that academic work has appeared inaccessible for me despite my enthusiasm for studies and my academic achievements.

Whenever I saw sources from people of colour used in my modules, I felt so excited. Such visibility empowered me to imagine a career in academia. I was enthusiastic to help other people like me to have this same positive experience. 

I also wanted to help tackle the limiting effects of narrow resources. As a history student, I have often found that mainstream narratives of events were altered, often quite radically, when I looked beyond traditional sources. These limitations are not restricted to history but across disciplines where valuable research and narratives are excluded from our reading lists. 

I was excited to lay the groundworks of a longer project which aims to engage with academia beyond dominant narratives and voices, and to contextualise researchers and their environments as part of a wider movement amongst institutions to decolonise British academia.

My research findings

The research spanned across 13 different reading lists from eight undergraduate faculties, and three postgraduate faculties. 

My analysis of a sample of reading lists produced marked results:

  • As ‘traditional’ sources, books and journal articles made up 91% of the reading material
  • 74% of the authors were either from the US or the UK
  • Only 9% of authors were from the Global South
  • 80% of the authors were affiliated with universities either in the US or UK
  • 97% were published in either the US or UK
  • 99.2% were first published in English, while 0.8% were translations.​​​​

The data revealed how current reading lists could pose a barrier to the University’s decolonising agenda. For example, the favouring of anglophone (English-speaking) works, particularly from native speakers, suggests that if an author does not have access to English or a translator, their work could be overlooked.  

We also considered the inferences of the domination of books and journal articles. To publish books and journal articles authors must have access to a publisher and funding, often aided by a university affiliation, particularly by universities in the US or the UK. This implies that authors are excluded from reading lists due to the languages that they have access to, their location and their jobs. 

While we can assume that the authors are on our reading lists for a good reason, we must also remember that many are omitted due to factors such as language and finances. Going forward with the University’s decolonisation agenda in mind, we should examine institutional bias with an awareness of who and what we are not reading.”