EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Decolonising UK Earth Science pedagogy - from the hidden histories of our geological institutions to inclusive curricula

Rebecca Williams1, Anya Lawrence1, Munira Raji1,2, Steven Rogers3, Natasha Dowey4, Jacqueline Houghton5, Keely Mills6, Catherine Souch7, and George Jameson8
Rebecca Williams et al.
  • 1School of Environmental Sciences, University of Hull, Hull, UK (
  • 2University of Plymouth
  • 3Keele University
  • 4Sheffield Hallam University
  • 5University of Leeds
  • 6British Geological Survey
  • 7Royal Geographical Society with IBG
  • 8Geological Society of London

The foundations of a discipline shape the way in which knowledge is created, by whom, for what, and dictates who is allowed to generate knowledge. The historical roots of modern Earth Science lie in early colonial principles, when geological exploration for resource extraction was a powerful tool in colonial expansion. The legacy is that dominance of western institutions in Earth Science disciplines reinforces imperial and colonial power relations, where ‘powerful knowledge’ continues to ignore, belittle and erase other systems of knowledge. The founding and growth of these institutions during colonialism dictated who was allowed to practise geology. Those whose class, gender, race, or disability did not fit were excluded. 

There is a documented diversity crisis in UK Higher Education Earth Science. However, Earth scientists of various underrepresented and intersecting identities have always existed; their histories have just been hidden. Marín-Spiotta et al., (2020) argue that any action to “increase diversity, equity, and inclusion needs to start with an examination of the historical roots of contemporary experiences of exclusion”. Dowey et al., (2021) argue that “fundamental lack of acknowledgement that geoscience is deeply rooted in, and built on, colonialism, white power, violence, exploitation and slavery pervades relationships in the present” and is a barrier to participation in the geosciences. However, at present, Earth Science curricula in the UK typically do not confront the subject’s colonial past, and are taught through a Western-centric lens. The UK ‘Fathers of Geology’ feature almost exclusively in historical accounts of the subject while non-western and indigenous scholars and ways of knowing are largely excluded. Geology in Society courses are often framed as how geoscience can help society, without due regard for ethics. Thus, the legacy of colonialism is perpetuated through current UK Earth Science practise and education. 

Decolonising the Curriculum is a philosophical and pedagogical initiative exploring the origin, development and use of knowledge that calls for academics to create “spaces and resources for a dialogue among all members of the university on how to imagine and envision all cultures and knowledge systems in the curriculum, and with respect to what is being taught and how it frames the world” (Keele University’s Decolonising the Curriculum Manifesto, 2018). Rogers et al., (2021) argue that Earth Scientists may lack the academic training, knowledge and interdisciplinary approaches needed to decolonise the Earth Science curriculum. 

In this project we have identified three needs in UK HE Earth Science: (1) to make explicit the exclusionary and unethical practices that were common in geological education and practice and how they manifest today; (2) to reveal the hidden histories of other historically excluded and minoritised Earth Scientists, making their contributions explicitly visible and (3) to train Earth Science professionals and researchers to be more aware of geology’s imperial/colonial past and ongoing extension of colonial practices to halt the perpetuation of this legacy. We present a package of open access pedagogical tools and resources we hope will enable sector-wide recognition, learning, and conversations around the historical legacy of Earth Science and modern inequities. 

How to cite: Williams, R., Lawrence, A., Raji, M., Rogers, S., Dowey, N., Houghton, J., Mills, K., Souch, C., and Jameson, G.: Decolonising UK Earth Science pedagogy - from the hidden histories of our geological institutions to inclusive curricula, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-13760,, 2023.