David Adetayo Olusoga OBE is a British historian, writer, broadcaster, presenter and film-maker. He was awarded the OBE in 2019 for his services to History and Community Integration. In December 2021, he was awarded the President’s Medal – the British Academy's most prestigious accolade for "outstanding service to the cause of the humanities and social sciences" which was created to reward "academic-related activity rather than academic achievement alone".
David Olusoga was made Professor of Public History at Manchester University in 2019. His inaugural professorial lecture on "Identity, Britishness and the Windrush” is available online.
David has presented historical documentaries on the BBC. His most recent TV series include Black and British - A Forgotten History, The World’s War, A House Through Time and the BAFTA award-winning Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners.
“Black history is a series of missing chapters from British history,” he says. “I’m trying to put those bits back in.”
When asked about the historical guilt and shame of the coloniser and colonised, passed down through the generations, David Olusoga says, “I want to excise the words ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ from the conversation. I don’t think it’s about people feeling guilt or shame. It’s about acknowledgment, and it’s about truth and reconciliation. But I don’t even think we’ve done the truth bit yet.”
What else has David achieved?
David has contributed to The One Show, a British television magazine and chat show programme which features topical stories and studio guests. He has also contributed articles to The Guardian.
As a writer, David has written stand-alone history books as well as ones to accompany his TV series. His books include: The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism (Faber and Faber, 2011); The World’s War (Head of Zeus, 2015); Black and British: A Forgotten History (Macmillan, 2016); Civilisations: First Contact/The Cult of Progress (Profile Books, 2018) and The Black History Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained (DK, 2021).
David Olusoga was born in Lagos, Nigeria in January 1970 to a Nigerian father and British mother who met in Newcastle as students. His parents separated and he was five when his mother returned with he and his sister to her home town of Gateshead in the North East to work as a linguist. In the 70s and early 80s a mixed-race family was a rarity in that area and David was exposed to the ugliness of racism at a young age. “People used to shout ‘National Front’ at us. And ‘wogs out’. There were men who would spit and shout. When we came out of school, we’d go to the bus stop and if there wasn’t a white person waiting, we’d walk to the next one because we knew the buses wouldn’t stop for black people. Sometimes we’d end up walking all the way home.”
His home on a council estate was attacked by the National Front on multiple occasions. One summer, when David was 14, a brick wrapped in a note telling the family to go back to Africa was thrown through the window. Police protection was required and eventually the family was forced out of their home and had to be rehoused.
“It was the summer from hell,” he says. “Afterwards, I think we did that thing you do when you’ve been through something together as a family – we stopped talking about it, because it was over, we’d got through it.”
In David’s own words, dyslexia led to a “difficult” education but as with his experience of racism he had support at home. He had a strong, close family which included his maternal grandparents. His mother pushed him hard to succeed at school, and at life. “She made me who I am.”
David studied the history of slavery at Liverpool University and graduated with a BA (Hons) in 1994. This was followed by a postgraduate course in broadcast journalism at Leeds Trinity University. Having always loved “great stories”, David eventually realised how the study of world history could help him make sense of his personal experience. Over the years the study of history “began to explain why things had happened to me and my family. It had answers. It made sense of the world and not just of my experiences but also why the north-east was the way it was, why those industries were there, why people felt the need to drive you out of your home, why some people could never accept the idea that I could be of this country, and be British.”
Listen to David Olusoga on Desert Island Discs - released on 10th Jan 2021, available for over a year https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000r314
Researching David Olusoga has been very informative and enriching. His love of history and of humanity is palpable. I love his emphasis on “acknowledgement, truth and reconciliation”.