Olivette Otele

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Olivette Otele

Otele in 2019
Born1970 (age 53–54)
Academic background
Alma materSorbonne University
ThesisMémoire et politique (2005)
Doctoral advisorJean-Claude Redonnet[1]
Academic work
Main interestsHistory of slavery

Olivette Otele FRHistS FLSW (born 1970) is a historian and distinguished research professor at SOAS University of London. She was previously Professor of the History of Slavery at Bristol University. She was Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society, and Chair of Bristol's Race Equality Commission.[2][3] She is an expert on the links between history, memory, and geopolitics in relation to French and British colonial pasts. She is the first Black woman to be appointed to a professorial chair in History in the United Kingdom.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Otele was born in Cameroon in 1970[citation needed] and grew up in Paris, France.[5] She is of Cameroonian heritage, and has been described as the "quintessential African European".[6][7] Otele studied at the Universite La Sorbonne in Paris, France, working on European colonial and post-colonial history.[8] She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in literature in 1998, and her Master of Arts degree in 2000.[8] She received her Doctor of Philosophy degree from Universite La Sorbonne in 2005 for a doctoral thesis entitled Mémoire et politique: l'enrichissement de Bristol par le commerce triangulaire, objet de polémique.[1] Her dissertation examined the city of Bristol's role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.[1]


After completing her doctoral studies, Otele was made an associate professor at Université Paris XIII.[9][10] She was appointed as a senior lecturer at Bath Spa University in 2013.[11] In 2018, at the age of 48, Otele became the first Black woman to be made Professor of History in the United Kingdom, appointed at Bath Spa University[6] She acknowledged that her promotion to the professoriate took longer because she has caring responsibilities as a mother to two children and because she is a woman of colour.[12] The Race, Ethnicity & Equality Report published by the Royal Historical Society in October 2018 found that only 0.5 per cent of historians working in UK universities are Black.[13] Until Otele's promotion there had never been a black woman Professor of History in the UK.[14] Otele hopes that her appointment will "open the door for many hard-working women, especially black women in academia".[15]

On her promotion Otele commented that "any success that is used only to improve one's own life is a waste of possibilities. That is why being the first Black female history professor does not mean anything to me if I'm not given and can't find means to bring others up."[5] Otele highlighted the difficulties she encountered in becoming a professor: "I've worked very hard and kept pushing and had a family...It's hard. I'm tired. It's bleak."[16] Otele has two sons; she became pregnant during her PhD.[17] The Vice-Chancellor of Bath Spa University, Sue Rigby, described Otele as "world-class and internationally respected".[18] Otele announced her promotion from her active Twitter account to her 25,000 followers.[19]

In October 2019 it was announced that Otele had been appointed as the first Professor of the History of Slavery at Bristol University.[20] She assumed her post in January 2020, and began a two-year research project to examine Bristol's connection to the transatlantic slave trade. The research was intended to be "a landmark in the way Britain examines, acknowledges and teaches the history of enslavement,"[21]. In spring of 2022 Otele left Bristol for SOAS, a shift she addressed in a Twitter thread that received much attention. [22]

Otele is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS), and a board member of Historians Against Slavery.[9] She is an executive board member for The British Society for the Eighteenth-Century Studies, a member of the Association for Cultural Studies, and a member of the Centre international de recherches sur les esclavages.[18] She also sits on the board of the National Archives Trust and is on the V&A Museum's research committee.[2][23] In June 2020 Otele was appointed as independent Chair of Bristol's Commission on Race Equality, which is an unpaid role.[3] For 2022, Otele is a Visiting Research Fellow in African Canadian History with the Huron Community History Centre and the Department of History at Huron University.[24]


Otele has written about cultural and collective memory and the memorialisation of the past. She analyses the legacies of European colonisation in post-slavery societies. She has published academic articles about Afro-European identities, including Frenchness, British identities in Wales, and what it meant to be British, Welsh, and Black.[25] Otele has participated in several major research grants looking at the African diaspora.[26][27] She looks at the way the societies of Britain and France address citizenship.[8] She has studied the Atlantic slave trade.[8][28][29] Otele was the Principal Investigator for the project People of African Descent in the 21st Century: Knowledge and Cultural Production in Reluctant Sites of Memory, which received £24,022 in funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.[30] The project ran from May 2017 to November 2018.

Otele has authored three books, and contributed to several other books. She published L'histoire de l'esclavage transatlantique britannique: des origines de la traite transatlantique aux prémisses de la colonisation in 2009. Her monograph Afro-Europeans: a Short History was published in 2020 by Hurst Publishers.[31][32][33] The publisher Hodder bought the exclusive rights to the audiobook version which will be narrated by Otele and released alongside the hardbook publication.[34] Her edited volume, Post-Conflict Memorialization: Missing Memorials, Absent Bodies, was published in 2021 by Palgrave Macmillan.[35][36][37]

Otele has written for the BBC's HistoryExtra, The Conversation, and Times Higher Education.[38] She also regularly contributes to other press, television and radio programmes, including 'The 'Guardian, Sky News, The Sunday Times, Elle Magazine, Huffington Post and The New Yorker.[39] This includes participation in programmes on BBC Radio 4.[40] and Dan Snow's History Hit podcast.[41] She is part of the John Blanke Project, a collaboration of artists and historians celebrating Black Tudors.[42] Otele spoke at the 2018 Winchester History Weekend, How Africans Changed Early Modern Europe.[43] She considered outstanding Africans and Europeans who are not otherwise remembered in popular history books.[43] She was interviewed by Krishnan Guru-Murthy for Channel 4 News podcast series Ways to Change the World: 'Will a Summer of Race Protests Create Lasting Change?' in October 2020.[44]

Otele describes her motivation for studying history as "this urge related to social justice. I wanted to understand the root of racism and discrimination – this idea of hating someone for something they are not responsible for, something that is incredibly random."[11] She believes the most important thing history has ever taught her is kindness.[45] Her greatest influence is the Congolese historian Elikia M'Bokolo.[46] She says the book that has had the greatest impact on her is Nations nègres et culture by Cheikh Anta Diop.[45] Otele speaks French, English, some German, and three Cameroonian languages, Ewondo, Eton and Bulu.[46]

Otele is leading the project "We Are Bristol: Reparative Justice Through Collaborative Research" at the University of Bristol. The project works with local communities to understand how the history of the transatlantic slave-trade is still impacting the Bristolian population today. The project is funded by a grant of £290,000 from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).[47]


Otele was named on the BBC 100 Women 2018 List. She appears at number 69, alongside Abisoye Ajayi-Akinfolarin, Nimco Ali, and Uma Devi Badi.[48]

Otele gave the keynote address at the Social History Society Annual Conference, University of Lincoln, 11 June 2019.[49] In May 2019 she was elected to Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society.[2] In 2020, Otele was listed by Prospect as the sixth-greatest thinker for the COVID-19 era.[50] Otele commented on the media attention this brought as an "overwhelming pressure to be the face of diversity and to solve racism".[17]

Otele was photographed to honour the contributions of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff, students and alumni, at Bristol University. Her portrait features in a series to celebrate the Be More Empowered for Success programme run by the University to support BAME groups. Otele's portrait features her holding a portrait of Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor General of Saint Lucia from 1997 to 2017, who completed a PhD in the Department of Education at Bristol in 1991. Otele described Pearlette as "a pioneer and a dedicated educator whose positive impact spans across several decades. It is a privilege to sit beside her portrait."[51]

In 2021, the Institute of Historical Research set up the annual Olivette Otele Prize to be awarded "for the best paper submitted to the History Lab Postgraduate Research Seminar by a Black PhD research student based in the UK".[52]

In 2022, Olivette received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Arts and Science at Concordia University.[53] She was also elected as a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.[54]

In April 2022, Otele was appointed to the post of Distinguished Research Professor at SOAS University of London.[55]

Published work[edit]

Monographs and edited volumes[edit]

  • Histoire de l'esclavage britannique: des origines de la traite transatlantique aux premisses de la colonisation (Paris: M. Houdiard, 2008)
  • African Europeans: An Untold History (Hurst, 2020), ISBN 9781787381919
  • Otele, Olivette, Gandolfo, Luisa, Galai, Yoav (eds), Post-Conflict Memorialization: Missing Memorials, Absent Bodies (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021)

Book chapters and journal articles[edit]

  • "Within and Outside Western Feminism and Grand Narratives: Cameroonian Women's Sites of Resistance", Nationalism(s), Post-nationalism(s): Centre de Recherche Interdisciplinaire, ed. M. Piquet (Paris: Presses de Paris-Dauphine, 2008), pp. 119–129
  • "Religion and Slavery: A Powerful Weapon for Pro-slavery and Abolitionist Campaigners", Le Debat sur l'abolition de l'esclavage en Grande Bretagne, 1787–1840, ed. M. Prum and F. Le Jeune (Paris: Editions Ellipses, 2008), pp. 89–102
  • "Liverpool dans la traite transatlantique: Imperatifs et pratiques des peres de la cite", Villes portuaires du commerce triangulaire à l'abolition de l'esclavage. Cahiers de l'histoire et des mémoires de la traite négrière, de l'esclavage et de leurs abolitions en Normandie, 1, ed. Saunier (Cléon: Routes du philanthrope, 2009), pp. 57–70
  • "Dependance, pouvoir et identite ou les ambiguites de la 'camerounicite'", 50 ans après, quelle indépendance pour l'Afrique?, ed. G. Makhily (Paris: Philippe Rey, 2010), pp. 467–482, ISBN 9782848761565
  • "Resisting Imperial Governance in Canada: From Trade and Religious Kinship to Black Narrative Pedagogy in Ontario", The Promised Land: History and Historiography of the Black Experience in Chatham-Kent's Settlements and Beyond (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), ISBN 9781442647176
  • "History of Slavery, Sites of Memory, and Identity Politics in Contemporary Britain", A Stain on Our Past: Slavery and Memory (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2017), pp. 189–210, ISBN 9781569025802
  • "'Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité': Debunking the Myth of Egalitarianism in French Education", in Unsettling Eurocentrism in the Westernized University, ed. J. Cupples and R. Grosfoguel (London: Routledge, 2018)


  • "We Need to Talk About Slavery's Impact on All of Us", The Guardian, 9 November 2019[56]
  • "These Anti-racism Protests Show It's Time for Britain to Grapple with Its Difficult History", The Guardian, 9 June 2020[57]
  • "Black activism can't be effective if we aren't taught black history", The Guardian, 28 October 2020[58]
  • "Roy Hackett was a civil rights hero – everyone in Britain should know his name", The Guardian, 3 August 2022[59]
  • "Today we remember the tragedy of slavery, but the culture war that denies Britain's past continues", The Guardian, 23 August 2022[60]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Olivette, Otele (1 January 2005). Mémoire et politique : l'enrichissement de Bristol par le commerce triangulaire, objet de polémique (Thesis).
  2. ^ a b c "Professor Olivette Otele FRHS elected a Vice-President of the Royal Historical Society". RHS. 15 May 2019. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b "New independent chair appointed for Bristol's Race Equality Commission". Bristol City Council News. 3 June 2020. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  4. ^ "The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition, by Manisha Sinha". Times Higher Education (THE). 19 May 2016. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  5. ^ a b Bothwell, Ellie (15 November 2018). "Interview with Olivette Otele". Times Higher Education (THE). Retrieved 15 November 2018.
  6. ^ a b Werber, Cassie (25 October 2018). "The UK's first black female history professor is Olivette Otele — Quartz". qz.com. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  7. ^ Malik, Nesrine (16 October 2020). "Olivette Otele: 'Discussions of cancel culture are very middle class. Activists just survive and support each other'". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d "Olivette Otele". www.bathspa.ac.uk. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  9. ^ a b "Dr Olivette Otele". Historians Against Slavery. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  10. ^ "Olivette Otele | Université Paris 13 - Academia.edu". univ-paris13.academia.edu. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  11. ^ a b "Making history: Interview with Professor Olivette Otele". The Bristol Magazine Online. 2 June 2020. Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  12. ^ White, Nadine (8 December 2018). "Meet Britain's First Black Female History Professor: 'Racism Is Alive And Kicking In Academia'". HuffPost UK. Retrieved 11 December 2018.
  13. ^ "Race, Ethnicity & Equality in UK History: A Report and Resource for Change" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 November 2018.
  14. ^ "Congratulations Professor Otele". The Social History Society. 1 November 2018. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  15. ^ "Première femme noire professeure d'histoire au Royaume-Uni". BBC News Afrique. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  16. ^ "The UK's only black female history professor". BBC News. 19 November 2018. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  17. ^ a b Scott, Georgiana F. (11 October 2020). "Interview: Talking Bristol, Black Lives Matter and Twitter with history of slavery professor Olivette Otele". Epigram. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  18. ^ a b Petherick, Sam (26 October 2018). "Bath Spa appoints UK's first black woman history professor". somersetlive. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  19. ^ "Historian on Twitter". Twitter. 22 October 2018. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  20. ^ "Bristol University appoints History of Slavery professor". BBC News. 30 October 2019. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  21. ^ Gray, Jasmin (30 October 2019). "Olivette Otele: University Of Bristol Hires UK's First Female Black History Professor To Examine Its Ties With Slavery". HuffPost. Retrieved 30 October 2019.
  22. ^ Grove, Jack (5 May 2022). "Black historian claims Bristol used her as 'human shield'". Times Higher Education.
  23. ^ "The National Archives Trust - Our board". The National Archives Trust. Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  24. ^ "Huron University".
  25. ^ Otele, Olivette (1 February 2008). "Multiculturalisme et régionalisme : les apories d'une identité britannique au pays de Galles". Observatoire de la Société Britannique (in French) (5): 49–64. doi:10.4000/osb.619. ISSN 1957-3383.
  26. ^ "Olivette Otele - UKRI". UKRI. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  27. ^ "Historicising Afro-European experiences: Heritage and Politics of Memory". www.ucl.ac.uk. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  28. ^ "International Migration Institute | University of Oxford Podcasts - Audio and Video Lectures". podcasts.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  29. ^ "Dr. Olivette Otele | History On-line". www.history.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 26 October 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  30. ^ "People of African Descent in the 21st century: knowledge and cultural production in reluctant sites of memory". UK Research and Innovation. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  31. ^ Dunne, Denise (31 January 2020). "The big question: Has the European Union been a success?". History Extra. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  32. ^ Otele, Olivette (2018). Afro-Europeans: a short history. Hurst. ISBN 9781787381919. Retrieved 25 October 2018. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  33. ^ "Five minutes with... Olivette Otele | The History Vault". www.thehistoryvault.co.uk. 29 January 2017. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  34. ^ Cowdrey, Katherine (29 September 2020). "Hodder buys audio of Otele's history of Africans in Europe | The Bookseller". www.thebookseller.com. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  35. ^ "Telling Their Stories: Celebrating Black History Month | University Church of St Mary the Virgin". www.universitychurch.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  36. ^ Otele, Olivette (March 2019). "Mourning in reluctant sites of memory: from Afrophobia to cultural productivity". researchespace.bathspa.ac.uk. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  37. ^ Otele, Olivette; Gandolfo, Luisa; Galai, Yoav, eds. (2021). Post-Conflict Memorialization: Missing Memorials, Absent Bodies. Memory Politics and Transitional Justice. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-3-030-54886-5.
  38. ^ "Olivette Otele". The Conversation. September 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  39. ^ "Olivette Otele – Georgina Capel". Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  40. ^ "BBC Sounds - Open Book - Chalke Valley History Festival". BBC. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  41. ^ acast (23 September 2017). "Janina Ramirez & Olivette Otele | Dan Snow's HISTORY HIT on acast". acast. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  42. ^ "About". John Blanke. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  43. ^ a b "Winchester History Weekend 2018: 5 minutes with Olivette Otele". History Extra. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  44. ^ "Series 6, Episode 9: Olivette Otele". Channel 4 News. 21 October 2020. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  45. ^ a b "On the Spot: Olivette Otele". History Today. Vol. 68, no. 1. January 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  46. ^ a b "Première femme noire professeure d'histoire au Royaume-Uni". BBC News Afrique. 23 October 2018. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  47. ^ Bahia, Tia (25 May 2021). "Bristol University launches new project exploring the legacy of transatlantic slavery". Epigram. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  48. ^ "BBC 100 Women 2018: Who is on the list?". BBC News. 19 November 2018. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  49. ^ "Conference". The Social History Society. 14 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2018.
  50. ^ "The world's top 50 thinkers for the Covid-19 age" (PDF). Prospect. 2020. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  51. ^ Bahia, Tia (20 October 2020). "Portraits celebrating BAME staff, students and alumni to be displayed in Wills Memorial Building". Epigram. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  52. ^ "The Olivette Otele Prize". Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 20 February 2021.
  53. ^ "Olivette Otele: 'SOAS is the place to be'". SOAS. 21 September 2022. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  54. ^ Wales, The Learned Society of. "Olivette Otele". The Learned Society of Wales. Retrieved 30 August 2023.
  55. ^ "SOAS appoints new Distinguished Research Professors". SOAS University of London. 11 April 2022. Retrieved 8 September 2022.
  56. ^ Otele, Olivette (9 November 2019). "We need to talk about slavery's impact on all of us | Olivette Otele". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 18 December 2019.
  57. ^ Otele, Olivette (9 June 2020). "These anti-racism protests show it's time for Britain to grapple with its difficult history". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  58. ^ Otele, Olivette (28 October 2020). "Black activism can't be effective if we aren't taught black history". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  59. ^ Otele, Olivette (3 August 2022). "Roy Hackett was a civil rights hero – everyone in Britain should know his name". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  60. ^ Otele, Olivette (23 August 2022). "Today we remember the tragedy of slavery, but the culture war that denies Britain's past continues". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 January 2023.