Skip to Main Content

Diversify and decolonise your reading lists

Why do we need to diversify and decolonise reading lists?

We need to do this because it is the right thing to do at a personal, institutional and societal level.

Sheffield Hallam University's mission is to transform lives and strategic vision to be a leading applied university. 

Sheffield Hallam University is committed to advancing equality of opportunity, experience and outcome, ensuring that students and staff realise their full potential. This is reflected through the University’s values of inclusion and supportiveness, with equality, diversity and inclusion acting as key enablers to the University Strategy.

You can find out more about mission, vision and strategy on the University webpages below.

Inclusive Pedagogy and Practice

You can find out more about Hallam's work around the degree awarding gap on the Inclusive Pedagogy and Practice suite of webpages developed by the Academic Development & Diversity Team.  

The Academic Development & Diversity Team can support you to consider what you can develop for yourself, your module, your course and department. 

The Library exists to support the University mission.

Our professional expertise and services aim to inspire and empower scholarship, engagement and success throughout the student journey and research cycle.

One of the ways we can do this is to look with a critical eye at the structures we inhabit and ask questions. Being critical and asking question is a positive action and is one of the first steps that moves an organisation towards change. This guide is here to help colleagues look at reading lists and start those conversations.


Decolonising my reading list

Reading lists are an essential part of learning and teaching. Recommended weekly reading can underpin ideas discussed during lectures and seminars. Students will use their reading lists as a starting point when undertaking assignments and research. 

Adding a resource to a reading list provides a platform for the author and gives their ideas privilege over those that are not included. Creating a reading list that represents a diverse range of voices, particularly those that are traditionally underrepresented has been identified as a key strategy for inclusive practice.

If we aim to transform lives, students need to be educated to be able to influence their future, make informed choices and be prepared for a world that we can not predict. 

As Gyebi-Ababio (2022, p4) stated when interviewed by Crilly & Everitt "'s about fighting for an education that sets a foundation for students and the world they live in - a world they can build that is anti-racist, fully liberated and accessible for all".

Harness the power you have to be an agent of change!

Let's talk terms!

What does decolonising the curriculum and diversifying reading lists mean?

It is possible to find multiple definitions of decolonisation in relation to universities, curriculums and libraries.

Below is the definition outlined by Goldsmiths College: University of London and we have used this to define our work and guide:

Decolonising the curriculum: Collaborating with academic departments and students to identify marginalised groups not represented in the curriculum, and reflecting those groups in the acquisition of learning and teaching resources.

Diversifying Reading Lists: Collaborating with teaching staff to create decolonised and inclusive Reading Lists to better represent the identities and experiences of our student body.

Take a look here for more resources and definitions.

Before you begin, read this!

 Activity: Read

We are asking you to read the Debunking Decolonisation guide because it provides an overview of decolonisation and will help you connect with the issues that we are discussing later in the guide.

You can extend your reading with bell hooks and this is an incredibly insightful and interesting read related to education pedagogy and decolonisation.

You could also dip into An A-Z of Creative Teaching in Higher Education to find out more about getting creative with teaching! Check out the following sections - Chapters I, K and N for content related to decolonising.

Canon - established knowledge within a subject

The term canon* means the established knowledge for an established field.

The canon can include the theories, knowledge and outputs that have shaped and defined that subject. If we were relating this to comics / graphic novels and we could begin by discussing Marvel, DC Comics and 2000AD and then build on this with examples of other publications, publishing houses, imprints, creators, inkers, writers and artists.


Check understanding when using academic terms

Be careful with the language and terms you use with your students. If the language you use is too formal and academic, this can be a barrier to understand and may alienate some students. For example, some people might not understand the use of the word "output" in the sentence above. Perhaps it would have been better to write - books, journal papers and other outputs. When using terms like "canon", make sure that your students understand what it means.

Academic terms can be akin to a new language that students need to understand and work with to gain access to the world of higher education. Checking understanding of new terms is a key way to ensure that all students understand what is being discussed and helps include the entire group. We chose output as that covers everything that could originate from the world of research but it hides what you actually mean and may not be common knowledge amongst your students. It is difficult to step away from terms like canon because it is entrenched in academia but if we use terms like this, we need to make sure that the students understand what it means.


Back to canon!

Canon and reading lists are linked. A reading list exists to point students towards the recommended reading for a module. The reading list draws on the canon. The students engage with the module - teaching, assessments, practical's and reading list and knowledge is perpetuated. 

Imagine we were going to create a module about the development of graphic novels from 1900 to present day. We may begin by selecting seminal works, key creators and illustrators and examples of different genres, forms and styles. We may begin with a range of titles but without analysing who or what we have chosen, it may be difficult to prevent bias from being perpetuated. 

Analysis should help show:

  • whose narratives are dominant
  • whose narratives are under represented.
  • the geographical range of resources selected

We will be covering this in detail in the Where to begin section.


 Action: Let's get talking to each other! Talk to your colleagues about the canon means to them in the context of their subject discipline.


Model best practice! Be critical and reflective about your lists!

It's OK to pose questions to each other to try to understand why specific material has been selected. Then together you can understand the balance of the resources e.g. which narratives are missing and which voices are seen as the experts and why. Reading list are the perfect opportunity to gather together resources that reflect the knowledge you need to teach and to represent the range of viewpoints, practitioners and researchers from across your specialist field.

Universities are diverse and the curriculum and reading lists need to reflect the international world they are preparing to step into as professionals and creators. This is an opportunity to explore the information landscape, work collectively and find new ideas, theories and authors.

Knowledge is not static! 

We firmly believe in challenging the status quo; adding to the range of resources within the curriculum; working in partnership with academics and students on the co-creation of content.

Knowledge creation

Knowledge production is not neutral

Let's think about how research is funded. Research can be funded by organisations or can be funded by institutions. Research tends to answer a research question which can then can inform professional practice like a new treatment or intervention or maybe one of the outcomes to the research is it creates something that is marketable like a device or a patent.

Research has the power to help all but let's step back further and ask:

  • Who is the research helping?
  • Whose issues are being resolved?
  • What is being solved?

We can look at this from the opposite direction and ask:

  • Which issues are not being researched?
  • Why are some researchers not getting funded?
  • What are the barriers to getting funded and published?

We can also look at sources with critical eyes. For example is the research or journal article suggesting that the findings are applicable to all the world or a specific population? Is the sample size broad enough to make the claims it makes? Think global! Think international!

Libraries love research and collectively across Higher Education subscribe to an incredible range of journals and databases with an associated high financial cost. We are not neutral spaces and need to understand that the resources we fund and subscribe can perpetuate bias. 

We need to make sure that our resources are as diverse as the communities we support and you can find out how we do this in the Library Action section.

Get comfortable with talking about race

We recognise that we may be at different starting points and have different perspectives and experiences.

Sometimes we may be unsure how to talk about race and decolonisation. We may be concerned about how we phrase or frame the conversation or worried that we may say the wrong thing and upset people but we need to have a shared dialogue to be able to talk about issues and create change. We may feel nervous or feel like we will not be listened to but we need to be able to talk to each other about race with the understanding that we are in a safe space and will be respected.

Analysing your reading lists

We will be asking you to look at your reading lists and analyse your source selections using a questioning approach. This will require you to think or discuss issues around race, decolonisation, privilege, inequity, subject canon and missing narratives and voices.

There is a range of resource to help with find out more and we have selected a few here.