Uncomfortable Oxford began in 2018 with the generous support of the AHRC-TORCH Graduate Fund. This public engagement project - now turned social enterprise - was born out of a perceived need for a better way for humanities researchers to engage with the uncomfortable aspects of Oxford’s past, in a public format.
Its founders, Paula Larsson and Olivia Durand, are both DPhil students in History, who research topics ranging from imperial legacies to systems of global power. Many of these conversations can be carried directly into the Oxford landscape, which holds an abundance of statues, names, buildings, and legacies from the colonial past.
Uncomfortable Oxford was created to allow academics to recognize these ‘uncomfortable’ histories within the city in a productive and engaging way for any member of the public - locals, tourists and students. Over a year later, Uncomfortable Oxford runs tours regularly on numerous themes, from memory to money.
What makes our format unique?
Uncomfortable Oxford takes a different approach to the walking tour format - instead of just listening, attendees are asked to participate in a discussion on uncomfortable subjects. Not only does this allow for the addition of greater complexity and context for the issues raised, it ensures that the information is far more memorable. Everybody gets a chance to participate in the process of knowledge-production, and we create a safe space for exchange and dialogue.
The Uncomfortable Oxford Tour: often presented as the ‘General tour’, this trail acts as an introduction to the topics we cover, especially the politics of memory, prejudice, and exploitation, through a look at statues, names, and memorials in Oxford.
The Oxford and Empire Tour: This tour focuses specifically on the University of Oxford, relating how the institution was shaped by the needs of the British imperial project, and how it in turn participated in the further expansion of the empire.
Follow the Money Tour: Money, funding, and finance are always controversial topics. This tour showcases questions of ethics and privilege, and the central role of capital wealth in shaping the destinies of the University of Oxford as a knowledge-producing institution.
Uncomfortable Literature: The literature tour draws on Oxford’s rich literary world with the aim of highlighting some uncomfortable stories which have been left out of the classic narratives of the city, whether these stories are those of overlooked writers coming from Oxford, their own perception of their space, or writing and genres that originated from Oxford
Uncomfortable Ashmolean Tour: In the Ashmolean Tour, we tackle some of the biggest questions currently troubling museums - how can they decolonise? What and how items should be repatriated? What ethics of display need to be considered? And above all else, what is the fundamental purpose of the museum?
The generous support of the AHRC-TORCH Fund allowed this project to kick-start into a growing movement, at the intersection between academia, education and community - we look forward to seeing it continue expanding!
Follow us: Twitter: @UnOxProject
Written by Paula Larsson and Olivia Durand.