Probably the most prominent Black British historian, Professor David Adetayo Olusoga has made New African’s list of the 100 Most Influential Africans for the third year in a row, while the British Academy has awarded him the President’s Medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the humanities and social sciences.
This year the historian and TV personality took the Black Lives Matter campaign, racism and the toppling of statues celebrating former slave owners to new heights through his articles, debates and TV programmes.
The impact has been truly profound and has affected attitudes throughout the UK and beyond. Without any doubt, Olusoga has changed the way people think about a whole raft of issues to do with race, colonialism, power and justice.
While most television historians begin as academics before moving in front of the camera, Olusoga was keen to work in television from an early stage. Acutely aware that black people had often been airbrushed from history, he began working as a researcher on BBC history documentaries before becoming a producer.
Olusoga’s first programme as a presenter documented the African and Asian troops who fought in the First World War, while other notable shows include Civilisations and Black and British: A Forgotten History. Quickly establishing himself as one of the UK’s most popular television historians, he also began writing books, some of which accompanied his documentaries, as well as writing on history for British newspapers and magazines.
He was born in Lagos but moved to Tyne and Wear in the Northeast of England at the age of five, and with a British mother and Nigerian father, he offers a nuanced outlook on British Black experiences.
A history degree at the University of Liverpool was followed by a course in broadcast journalism at Leeds Trinity University but it was only in 2019 that he became Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester.
He appears on the Powerlist of the 100 most influential Black Britons in 2022. In 2019 he was awarded an OBE for services to history and community integration, the same year in which he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
British Academy award
The President’s Medal – the British Academy’s highest honour in its suite of prizes and medals – is awarded annually in recognition of services to the humanities and the social sciences.
The British Academy is the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences. It invests in researchers and projects across the UK and overseas, engages the public with fresh thinking and debates, and brings together scholars, government, business and civil society to influence policy for the benefit of everyone.
The presentation ceremony will take place at an event in honour of the winner on 12 May 2022, featuring Professor David Olusoga and Professor Julia Black in conversation. Further details and information on how to book tickets to the event will be added to the British Academy’s events webpage in early 2022.
Professor Julia Black, President of the British Academy, said: “Professor David Olusoga merits the British Academy’s highest accolade for his approach to championing inclusive approaches to British and international history by presenting diverse stories from Britain’s past and engaging a wide range of people on the important issue of how we understand our collective histories.
“Across literature and television, his achievements are an inspiration to researchers in the humanities and social sciences looking to bring their research to a wider audience. His remarkable impact shows that there is unquestionably a huge public appetite to learn the realities of Britain’s international past.”
On receiving the President’s Medal, Professor David Olusoga OBE said: “It is an extraordinary and unexpected honour to be awarded the President’s Medal. Throughout my career, whether writing history or bringing stories from the past to television, I have believed that history and the humanities must be made available to everyone and include everyone’s stories. At a time when calls for inclusivity have never been louder, I’m thrilled to have my work so generously recognised by the British Academy.”