Alumni

Alumni profile - Deanna Lyncook

In the wake of the global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I felt that it was important for my community to see themselves as more than just the victims of racism within society. I felt like I could uplift and educate with my podcast and that’s exactly what I set out to do.

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What influenced your decision to study English and History at Queen Mary? I came to Queen Mary for a History taster day in year 12 and I really enjoyed the different History modules that were on offer. When I started my Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) in year 13, I contacted a lecturer (Dr Joanna Cohen) in the History department to recommend some books and she was so helpful. I felt really inspired and welcomed by the University, so I decided to apply to study History. However, I had always enjoyed English and I ended up getting better grades in my English Literature A-level than I expected, and there were a lot of English modules that I really wanted the chance to take as opposed to some of the European history modules, so I decided to switch onto the joint honours course.

What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments or favourite places on campus? I played netball at Queen Mary and ended up becoming the President in my third year and it was the best decision I made. I created some life-long friendships and some of my favourite memories were centred around netball. My most memorable moment was winning ‘Club of the Year’ at the 2018 Club Sport Awards; we had worked hard all year and it was so incredible to win the coveted award.

My favourite place on campus was definitely Qmotion (the on-campus gym). I spent a lot of time there because of netball and I also worked there during my studies. The gym was always a space I felt comfortable and really happy in; everyone was just so supportive there and they still are to this day.

During your degree, you studied several modules on Black History such as Caribbean Intellectual History and Black Writing in Britain. How important was it to you to see Black history represented in the curriculum? Unfortunately, Queen Mary didn’t have much to offer in terms of Black British history at the time, so I opted to do an intercollegiate module for my dissertation and went to King’s College London to do my special subject in Caribbean Intellectual History. However, in my first two years at Queen Mary, I studied a lot of American history, specifically focusing on race and gender which was very interesting and also helped me better understand ‘race’ as a wider concept, which became beneficial as I studied more Black British History later.

I studied Black Writing in Britain as an English Literature module in my second year which was my introduction to Black British history. I felt like there weren’t many options to study Black history outside of the American context at Queen Mary (something which I know has changed now) but being in London, I was never far from an exhibition, gallery, or theatre production that was centred around Black history.

It was so important to see Black history represented on the curriculum, not just as a one off in a module, but as the central focus of the module, and that’s why having the opportunity to study the Caribbean Intellectual module at King’s as part of my degree was so important to me.

What does Black History Month mean to you and how will you be acknowledging it this year? For me, every day is Black History Month because I’m currently studying my MA on ‘Caribbean women in Britain, 1939-1990' at The University of Birmingham, and Black history is what I intend to go into as a career. The fact that Black History is only given one month to be ‘celebrated’ is problematic, especially as it is so pivotal to understanding British history more widely, but it is nice to see people interested in what I find so fascinating, even if it is only for one month. As a Black woman, seeing people that look like me being celebrated in public spaces is extremely uplifting!

This year I will be continuing my research but also taking part in some talks for students at schools in my local area and I’ll be taking part in some panels, discussing my research and my podcast: The History Hotline.

The History Hotline shares lessons in Black history that people may not have heard before. How did you decide to start this podcast and why do you think it’s important? When we think of Black history, we often turn to America. The Black history I had studied up until second year was all American and I felt like there was so much I wasn’t aware of when it came to Black British history. Once I started reading and realised there was a huge gap in my knowledge, I knew it was something I had to share.

In the wake of the global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I felt that it was important for my community to see themselves as more than just the victims of racism within society. I felt like I could uplift and educate with my podcast and that’s exactly what I set out to do.

Of the history lessons you’ve shared on your podcast, which one did you enjoy researching the most and why? My favourite episode was ‘Wray and Nephew’, as I hadn’t studied Jamaican history for a few years, so delving into the world of privateers, sugar plantations and rum production on the island was very interesting.

How has your podcast been received so far? Have you had any exciting opportunities as a result of its success? The podcast has been well received so far; I have been featured in The Voice online, which made me feel extremely proud. It's had quite a larger reach than I initially anticipated; I think the episodes so far have been about events that people don't know much about so people feel they are being challenged and learning something new which I'm really happy about. I have participated in a few talks, one for the antiracist group 'A Better Community' (ABC), and I’ve been part of a panel for the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) and the Mile End Institute. I was also featured on QMULs People Profile 2020 series, and it was amazing to see my picture next to so many incredible leading thinkers, who I aspire to be like and whose work has not only inspired me but allowed me to be in the place I am today.

What would your advice be to anyone interested in starting their own podcast? I would advise them to just go for it; if you have something you want to share with the world that isn’t being spoken about or has been forgotten, use your knowledge and expertise and share that! Research your topic as much as you can and research the podcasts that already exist within your chosen field, to make sure you are filling a gap in the market. I always tell myself: ‘You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great!’

Based on your own time at university, is there anything you feel that Queen Mary can do to improve the university experience for Black students? As with most UK Universities, there is an attainment gap that exists and is resulting in lower academic outcomes for Black students. I think alongside other Universities, more needs to be done to understand why this is the case, specifically within each subject or department, and measures should be implemented to eradicate the issue.

Based on my experiences, decolonising the curriculum is the only natural start. The curriculum needs diversifying at the very least across many subject areas and I believe these things would help Black students within higher education.

You’re currently studying for your masters in Economic and Social History at the University of Birmingham. How have you found the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study and what are your plans for the future? I had a year out of studying in between my undergraduate degree and my masters and I also moved back home to Birmingham. The transition has been good; studying a masters this year with UCU strikes, a move to online lectures and a closure of campus due to Covid-19 has been much more challenging than the transition itself.

I am hoping to continue my studies and complete a PhD within the realms of Caribbean and Black British history and hopefully become an academic. I also hope to see my podcast grow and reach a wider audience, in order to make sure the things I learn also benefit my community and those who have not yet learnt Black history, and wish to be uplifted and inspired by it.

Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates interested in studying English and/or History or pursuing postgraduate study? A masters is a lot different to an undergraduate degree; you have so much more freedom with what you chose to research and study. I also think it takes a lot more motivation to succeed, you must be driven to push yourself to do the work because oftentimes, there are fewer contact hours and more time is needed to spend on personal study and extra reading. However, if you have a genuine passion for the subject and your dissertation topic, you will be successful.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Deanna or engage her in your work, please contact Nathalie at n.grey@qmul.ac.uk.