John Blanke Was My Gateway Drug to Black British History
Having studied African History at university and as a History teacher in a school in West London in the early 1990s, I was very keen to increase the diversity of the curriculum that my students were studying. With the honourable exception of Hakim Adi’s book on Black British History, school textbooks were exclusively focusing on the Slave Trade and the American Civil Rights Movement. I wanted my students to study individuals and events that connected to them and so I started to search out for Black British stories that could be woven into the mainstream KS3 curriculum.
When it came to teaching Tudor history, I delved into my copy of Staying Power by Peter Fryer and came across the description of John Blanke and his role in the Tudor courts. I was mesmerised. A quick google search led me to the iconic image of Blanke from the Westminster Roll and I immediately had my hook for the lesson.
Once the image had piqued the students’ interest then we could delve a bit deeper into Black presence in Tudor times. I came across Miranda Kaufmann’s research on Elizabeth I and her proclamations about the Blackmoores and built the second part of the lesson around that fascinating story. John Blanke always stayed with me and when I was choosing source materials for a baseline test for my year 7s I chose to feature him consciously using his evidence as a way of developing my student’s historical skills.
A few years later I was invited to write what was to become a seminal article for Teaching History about teaching multicultural British History and I used John Blanke as an example of how we can drip-feed Black history into the mainstream curriculum. And moving forward to the present day when I co-write a textbook on the history of migration to Britain, John Blanke opened the chapter on the early modern period.
Thank you John, for helping me take my first steps on this amazing journey of discovery, I hope I have done you proud.
Lead Practitioner for Humanities, Park View School
Fellow of the Schools History Project
Webmaster of www.blackhistory4schools.com