Although widely regarded as a ‘young’ college, St Catherine’s can trace its roots back to 1868, when a ‘Delegacy for Unattached Students’ formed. This Delegacy, created in response to the recommendation of a Royal Commission, enabled students to be members of the University without being a member of a college, thus avoiding the prohibitive associated costs. As such, the College has at the very heart of its mission the expansion of an Oxford education to include those previously excluded. Christian Cole, a member of the Delegacy, was the first black African student to achieve a degree from the University of Oxford in 1876.
The College is proud to count among its alumni – as a Delegacy, then the St Catherine’s Society, and today as a College – important figures in the history of post-colonial politics as well as the study of and resistance to colonialism. These include:
- Barun De, the eminent Indian historian and an influential figure in the study of colonialism, notably on the activities of Henry Dundas;
- Hiren Mukherjee, the decorated Indian academic and Communist politician who published widely in Bengali and English;
- Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Bengali lawyer and politician, and fifth Prime Minister of Pakistan, a key figure in regional politics in the decolonisation period who proposed a plan for an independent Bengal;
- Eric Williams, historian and politician, author of the hugely influential Capitalism and Slavery, and first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago;
- Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, the first democratically elected female leader of a majority Muslim state.
Catz remains one of the most international colleges, through both its large undergraduate and graduate cohorts, and its important visiting students programme. Approximately 23% of Catz UK-domiciled undergraduate intake consists of BME students. The College continues to celebrate its diversity through the ‘Humans of St Catz’ project, a popular Facebook page set up by the JCR. Catz has responded actively to the challenge set down by the Black Lives Matter movement, with its innovative Black History Month exhibition planned for the autumn.
Teaching and research at St Catherine’s are informed by an awareness of colonial and post-colonial struggles for freedom and independence across the ‘Global South’ and beyond. The first fellow in Spanish, Robert Pring-Mill, was a pioneering expert in Latin American political poetry and song, with a particular interest in the Sandinista struggle in Nicaragua. This tradition is continued by Ben Bollig, current tutor in Spanish, with his work on cultural activism in Argentina. Our Human Geography tutor, Fiona McConnell, has worked on exile Tibetan politics and engagement of indigenous peoples at the UN. Pekka Hämäläinen, Professor of American History, has produced major studies of the Comanche and Lakota peoples. Marc Mulholland, fellow and tutor in History, has written widely on Irish history since the Great Famine; and his colleague William Booth is completing a monograph on Latin American Lefts in the Early Cold War.