School of History, Classics & Archaeology

UncoverED – A collaborative decolonial research project

A new project uncovers the global history of the University of Edinburgh over the past 200 years.

HCA UncoverEd

‘UncoverEd’ is a student-led University of Edinburgh-funded collaborative project with a ‘decolonial’ agenda.

A database of students from Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and the Americas – from as early as 1700 – has been compiled with the aim of producing at least one biography each of a ‘notable’ alumnus, leading up to a website and exhibition currently on display in the Chrystal Macmillan Building.

‘Up to now the university has done very little to acknowledge these figures and many, many others, as notable alumni,’ said Dr Thomas Cunningham, Teaching Fellow in African History within the School of History, Classics and Archaeology and one of the projects leads. ‘On UncoverEd we want to celebrate the successes of alumni from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, but we also want to force more critical conversations about why their stories have remained silenced an marginalised.’

‘One of our aims is to begin the process of making these individuals' life stories part of the public, institutional memory of the university: we want to erect plaques commemorating them and to name buildings after them, for example. But we also want to open up wider, critical, debates about how prominent, prestigious, elite institutions such as ours can and should engage with their imperial histories. And we hope that our project will open up wider, critical, debates about how prominent, prestigious, elite institutions deal with the marginalised and erased histories that exist within them.’

The research group (from a variety of degree levels and subject areas including History), started the project during Welcome Week in September 2018, beginning with the archives of the University’s newspaper ‘The Student’ as a source.  

Notable, publicly prominent graduates include:

William Ferguson – From Jamaica, he became Governor of the British colony of Sierra Leone (the first and last governor of African descent) in 1845;

James Africanus Horton – Described as "the father of modern African political thought", Horton was from Sierra Leone, graduating from Edinburgh in medicine in 1859; 

Kadambini Ganguly – Originally from Bihar, India, she was one of the first women from South Asia to study western medicine, graduating in 1889; 

Yuan Changying – Playwright and the first Chinese woman to graduate from a European university.  

Ansuyah Singh – An Indian-South African, she graduated in medicine in 1944 and became one of the most prominent anti-apartheid politicians in mid 20thC South Africa;

Flora Nwapa – The Nigerian novelist, who has been described as "the mother of modernist African literature", graduated with a diploma in Education in 1958;

David Pitt – After completing a degree in medicine in Edinburgh, Pitt returned to the Caribbean where he began his medical and political career. He moved to London in 1947 becoming a Labour MP, playing a key role in campaigning against racism and being appointed to the House of Lords in 1975. 


Find UncoverEd online and on Twitter.

Dr Thomas Cunningham's staff profile