History project uncovers tales of global alumni

Overlooked, forgotten and untold stories of the University’s remarkable global alumni are being celebrated as part of a new project.

UncoverED explores the history of students from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Americas between 1800 and 1980.

More than 20 unearthed stories of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) alumni feature on a new website.

The initiative aims to more fully reflect the University’s diversity and international impact over the centuries and examine how its historical links with empire brought many students to Edinburgh.

Student team

UncoverED is led by PhD researcher Henry Mitchell and teaching fellow Tom Cunningham, working with eight further students. The project is funded by Edinburgh Global.

I think it’s unprecedented to have a project like this, looking at the imperial history of the University, and it’s been amazing working with Henry and Tom who have guided us through the archives, something that I’ve never done before, and working with other students to uncover the hidden history of the University.

Lea Ventre Student researcher

Pioneering feminist

The team has uncovered stories such as that of Yuan Changying, who studied in Edinburgh between 1917 and 1921 and was the University’s first female Chinese graduate.

After graduation she returned to China and became a professor and a writer.

She became one of China’s earliest feminists, making her name through dramas focussing on female status in traditional Chinese families.

African graduates

Flora Nwapa, who graduated in 1958, is regarded as the mother of African literature. She is famed for working to reunite children with their families after the Nigerian civil war in 1970.

James “Africanus” Beale Horton is considered the University’s first African graduate, earning his medical degree in 1859. Upon returning to his native Sierra Leone, he worked for the British Army as a military physician.

He also gained renown as a historian and political theorist, writing several books and an array of articles and essays, and was the founder of the Commercial Bank of West Africa.

Revealing letters

The team contacted families of some of the graduates to find out more about their lives after leaving Edinburgh. Relatives have provided letters and photographs to help tell their stories.

They found accounts of the University’s Indian Students’ Association and Afro-West Indian Association, dating back to 1883.

With this project we wanted to unearth stories, be they lost, forgotten, or never told. In doing so we can celebrate some of the huge achievements of our BAME alumni, and reflect on how we tell a story of our university that better reflects its diversity, global reach and impact.

Professor James SmithVice Principal International


The project will be featured in an exhibition in the Chrystal Macmillan building from 31 January 2019.

This will be developed into a display featuring biographies, social histories and artwork for the European Conference of African Studies hosted by the University’s Centre for African Studies in June.

Related links


Edinburgh Global