Balliol and Critiques of Colonialism and Responses to Historic Injustice

Balliol students and alumni have made significant contributions to radical critiques of racism, colonialism and imperialism. These include Rajani Palme Dutt (1914), one of the leading Communist figures in inter-war and early post-war Britain, a staunch opponent of Western imperialism, who paid close attention to liberation struggles in India and Palestine. Raphael Samuel (1952), a student of Christopher Hill (1931, Tutorial Fellow in History 1938-65, Master 1965-1978), was one of the pioneers of radical history and the New Left in Britain, and protested against the British deposition of the Guyanese government in 1953. He wrote an article in The Oxford Left about ‘The Mind of British Imperialism’. Christopher Hitchens (1967) campaigned against the Vietnam war and identified strongly with the counter-cultural movements of late 1960s and 1970s. Karma Nabulsi (1989) has written extensively on the modern history and politics of Palestinian liberation movements and her current research and writing draws compelling links between contemporary practices of surveillance and policing implemented by the British government, and the nation’s colonial past. Rahul Rao (2001) has published extensively on postcolonial identities, and is currently preparing a book about the commemoration of the colonial past; and Marisa Fuentes, the current Oliver Smithies Visiting Fellow at Balliol, who works on slavery in the early modern Atlantic World and is the author of Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive.

Balliol staff and students have been prominently engaged in contemporary debates over reparations relating to historic injustice, colonialism in particular. Daniel Butt (Tutorial Fellow in Political Theory) has published widely on reparative justice and is the author of Rectifying International Injustice: Principles of Compensation and Restitution Between Nations (OUP, 2008). He is currently working on a book provisionally entitled Radical Reparations, and recently contributed a podcast entitled ‘Should we pay reparations for wrongs committed in the past’ for the Philosophy 24/7 podcast series. Balliol students were actively involved in the formation of Common Ground, a movement that seeks to examine Oxford’s colonial past in the context of its present-day inequalities.