The Black Cantabs Research Society is a culmination of several projects and movements that had begun long before its launch in 2015.
We recognise the efforts of the many students who have made attempts to informally research about the histories of students of African descent in their colleges.
The Black Cantabs Research Society is as a result of two initiatives in 2015. The first project was started in late 2014 to document the Earliest African Students at Cambridge University by Njoki Wamai (Queens, 2012) and Godfrey Sang (Wolfson). Godfrey Sang, was a visiting Kenyan scholar researching about the Kenyan activist and politician, Jean Marie Seroney who visited friends at Cambridge in the 1950s. Through his research in the Cambridge Commonwealth archives, Godfrey unearthed some of the earliest East African scholars at Cambridge.
Dr. Njoki Wamai (Politics, Queens 2012) was inspired by Godfrey and she started researching about other African alumni in her college and other colleges. The two then continued researching and sharing their findings on social media while looking out for partners like Cambridge-Africa for their African Cantab alumni documentation project.
This came at a time when the first black female Cambridge University Student Union President, Priscilla Mensah, was elected in March 2015, an important feat that got Siana Bangura (Peterhouse, 2010) and Nnenda Chinda (Downing, 2013) wondering if Priscilla’s moment would be forgotten like other past black alumni. They started thinking about starting an initiative that could record the achievements of Black Cantab alumni.
The two projects then came together and on October 30, 2015, when the Black Cantabs Research Society was launched at a historic ceremony at Queens’ College, the same College at which the first black student-Alexander Crummell matriculated in 1849 and graduated in 1852. Dr. Eva Namusoke (Gonville and Caius, 2012) later joined the team as the project historian together with Dr. Flora Tasse a computer scientist (Hughes Hall 2012) who set up the first website and database.
The Black Cantabs Research Society and project is both a historical project and a political project. The historical project involves building an open database of Black Cantab alumni from the dusty registration lists and matriculation and graduation photographs.
The first database was developed by Flora Tasse and can be accessed and also inputted by everyone including the current students and academics, alumni families, colleges and historians interested in this project. The website also shares stories of some alumni and you are welcome to contribute to the research as a college researcher or individual researcher. We hope to complete a series of publications about Black Cantabs in the near future from the data gathered here and also provide a database for researchers interested in Cambridge’s Black History. We have been disseminating our findings through this website, our Facebook page and exhibitions in Cambridge, and partnerships are welcome for further collaboration for dissemination.
Politically, this project aims to the uncover the lost histories of black students in Cambridge. If anyone is asked to name Cambridge’s alumni and the kind of people who are part of Cambridge, one imagines a bunch of aristocrats who were all male and all white, immortalized in portraits that supervise college halls. Despite the support received from colleges and departments, many students of colour and black students in particular have found Cambridge particularly challenging because of their small numbers, the invisibility of former black alumni and lack of black academics who they can look up to for inspiration. The Black Cantabs Research Society hopes Cambridge Colleges will start appreciating the importance of diversity and representation in imagery by having portraits of prominent black alumni in their colleges, improving access programmes for black students to join their colleges and in the hiring of more black academics.
Socially, the society has become a forum for the current African, African Caribbean and Black British students to form a strong and connected community under the Black Cantabs banner. We hope that this can grow into a global Black Cantab network of alumni, stretching from Alexander Crummell to the present.
Dr Mónica Moreno-Figueroa (Lecturer in Sociology, University of Cambridge, Fellow in Social Sciences, Downing College)
Prof Peter Mandler (Professor in History, University of Cambridge, Fellow in Gonville and Caius)
Godfrey Sang (History, Wolfson College, 2014)
Dr. Njoki Wamai (Politics, Queens’ College, 2012)
Nnenda Chinda (Classics, Downing College, 2013)
Siana Bangura (History, Peterhouse, 2010)
Dr. Eva Namusoke (History, Gonville and Caius, 2012)
Founding Committee and Researchers
President and research coordinator, Njoki Wamai
Secretary and communications coordinator, Siana Bangura
Junior Treasurer and events coordinator, Nnenda Chinda
Historian, Eva Namusoke
Nafisa Waziri (PhD Development Studies, Hughes Hall)
Haroun Mahmud (History, Kings College)
Khalifa Damani (PhD Education, Gonville and Caius)
Katy Chisenga (Graduate Medicine, Wolfson College)
Olivia Hylton-Pennant (Philosophy, Newnham College)