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Decolonising the BBC Archive

The British Academy-funded research project ‘Decolonising the BBC Archive: Radio News and the language of race in post-WWII Britain' invites different generations of the public from African and Caribbean backgrounds to speak back to the BBC's reporting across the corporation's history.

The project is in partnership with the BBC Archive and runs from September 2022 to September 2024. 

Rationale and aims

  • Decolonising the BBC Archive explores the language of race using the recently digitised collection of 165,000 radio news scripts, produced for the BBC Home Service and its successor, Radio Four. 
  • The project has two key aims: first, to explore the evolution of language used to report on Black and Black-British migration and experience in the UK from 1945 to the mid-1990s; second, to invite different generations of the public from African and Caribbean backgrounds to speak back to the BBC's reporting.
  • This archival and public engagement project aims to reveal the ways in which the broadcaster constructed notions of national belonging in the 20th century and invite the public to reconfigure and reimagine the BBC's constructions for 21st-century audiences. 
  • The project brings together two key developments in scholarly research: the opening up of archives through digitisation projects and the debates on Decolonising the Academy. We employ decolonising methodologies to explore the BBC news archive and seek to reorientate thinking around the language of race and its uses. 
  • You can hear more about the project in this podcast 'Whose voice, whose story?'

Project team


  • During the first year of the project we have been using historical and discourse analysis to research the news scripts database. Focusing on the period from 1945 to the mid-1990s, we have been exploring BBC's coverage of specific events, historical figures and broader themes and terms (e.g. terms such as ‘colour bar’, ‘racism’, ‘anti-racism’, ‘Black Power’). We will be publishing our findings online and we are working on creating an open access, interactive resource to engage as many audiences as possible. 
  • Collaboration and dialoguing with individuals and organisations working in relevant areas is at the heart of this project. Our aim is to support and build on the work others have been doing in this hugely significant field. To this end, we have conversations and have held feedback sessions, sharing our initial findings, with the Black Cultural Archives, the Institute of Race Relations, the Migrant Rights Network, members of the Stuart Hall Foundation, the Black Miners Museum (Nottingham), Recognize Black Heritage and Culture (Birmingham), Serendipity: Institute for Black Arts and Heritage (Leicester), MeCCSA Radio Studies Network, the project team members' of AHRC's Connected Histories of the BBC, and several other researchers and historians.
  • During the second year of the project we will produce conversational podcasts. Recordings of contemporary readings of a sample of the news scripts will be interlaced with responses by individuals who lived through the events and/or have their own recollections of them and how they were reported at the time. This creative use of the material aims to bring together the voices of the past and present, encouraging different generations to talk with and listen to each other.  Oral history methods will be employed to conduct the interviews, and participant information and consent forms, following Birkbeck's research ethics guidelines, will be given to volunteers who would like to take part in the podcasts.
  • The conversational podcasts, in particular, offer an encounter with the archive, where the public speaks back to it. 'Speaking back' is in the same tradition of 'writing back' or 'talking back' that characterises much of the postcolonial or anti-colonial literature. In this project, the act of 'speaking back' is about recovering and amplifying diverse experiences and different voices.
  • In exploring uses of language and promoting diverse voices, this project will widen the research agenda for histories of postcolonial Britain and will deconstruct structures of BBC thinking through its reportage on race.

Key outputs

  • Planned project outputs:
    • 1. A publicly accessible online resource which will also be hosted on BIROn (Birkbeck Institutional Research Online repository).
    • 2. An academic article in a refereed scholarly journal to reflect on the project’s methodologies and outputs and its potential for public impact and knowledge transfer opportunities.


  • This research project is awarded a small research grant by the British Academy. This funding affords us full research independence. The British Academy has no direct involvement in, or oversight over our research findings and methods. Likewise, as project partners, the BBC Archive Editorial team, have facilitated and supported access to the news scripts database. The BBC have no editorial or other control of, and oversight over our research.