Spring 2024

Racism and Risk in Postwar Britain

Listed in: European Studies, as EUST-443  |  History, as HIST-443


Ellen R. Boucher (Section 01)


[EU/TC/TE/TR/TS] In the decades following World War II, mass immigration into the U.K. transformed Britain into a multi-ethnic society. The majority of postwar migrants came from territories within the British Empire, particularly the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia. As British imperial subjects, these people – known as Commonwealth Citizens – held full rights to live, work, vote, and receive welfare provision in the U.K. In spite of this formal political equality, Commonwealth Citizens experienced various kinds of official and unofficial racism upon arrival in Britain. They were frequently – if erroneously – represented as “foreigners” who took jobs, housing, and benefits from white Britons. Changes in immigration law throughout the 1960s and 1970s cemented this tendency to define Commonwealth Citizens as outsiders. This trend culminated in the 2018 “Windrush scandal,” in which thousands of Britons of color, all of whom had been legally living in the U.K. for decades, were detained, denied legal rights, and some wrongfully deported.

This course explores the postwar experience of Commonwealth Citizens through the theme of risk. Structural racism in various realms of British society – from housing and employment to policing, education, and the media – all served to amplify migrants’ economic and social precarity. How did Commonwealth Citizens negotiate these risks? What forms of political, social, and cultural organizing helped them build community, claim belonging, and increase individual and familial security? To what extent did this activism transform migrant lives and communities, as well as British society more generally? This is a research seminar; throughout the semester, students will pursue individual research projects and write a 20-25 page paper on a topic of their choice.

Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Boucher.

How to handle overenrollment: HIST and EUST majors, then by seniority.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Close analysis of historical evidence, which may include written documents, images, music, films, or statistics from the historical period under study. Exploration of scholarly, methodological, and theoretical debates about historical topics. Extensive reading and intensive in-class discussions. Devising a research question. Using primary and secondary sources to develop a persuasive historical argument about an individually chosen topic. Reading and offering critical feedback on other students’ papers. Completing a research paper of 20 to 25 pages, plus bibliography.


2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2024