Department of Earth Science and Engineering History and Legacy


Entrance to the Department of Earth Science and Engineering in the Royal School of Mines

We are addressing our history, developing understanding of its context and moving forward to be a more inclusive Department.

In the Department of Earth Science and Engineering (ESE), we need to develop our understanding of our institutional history and its contribution to regimes and systems endorsing racial oppression and inequality, as well as how it affects our staff and students.

To develop structures and processes to communicate and act on issues of race within the department, we are planning transparent discussions and taking actions to uphold our values. This will make the Department a more inclusive place to study and work.

What we have done in ESE

De La Beche was a geologist, palaeontologist and slave owner who contributed to the founding of the Royal School of Mines, one of the original constituent colleges at Imperial. His family wealth came from slavery, and De La Beche inherited and ran his father’s slave plantation in Jamaica. We abhor this involvement in the slave trade.

We have therefore taken or supported the following actions: 

  1. We have removed a bust of Henry De La Beche from display. The permanence of this action was recently supported publicly by the College. Removing the bust reduces reverence for De La Beche, and paves the way to develop our understanding of this history and evolve our discussions on race. The bust will remain in storage in the College Archives. 
  2. The Department’s historic De La Beche Medal, an annual undergraduate prize generally awarded to the best student in Mining, will now be known as the Earth Science and Engineering Medal.
  3. Imperial College Union’s departmental society for geology has also moved to address its historic links with De La Beche.The society, formerly known as the De La Beche Society, will be changing its name temporarily to the Imperial College Geology Society, as a consultation in the Department of Earth Science and Engineering gathers ideas from students for a new permanent name.

What Imperial College London is doing

Overarching our departmental efforts to combat racism and tackle racial inequality, Imperial has already taken a number of initial steps, including no longer reproducing the College's historic Latin motto on new materials.

History Group

The College has commissioned a group to examine the history of the College through its links to the British Empire, and to report on the present understanding and reception of the College’s legacy and heritage in the context of its present-day mission. The working group will contain representatives of academics, professional staff and students as well as external experts and advisors. Professor Nilay Shah (Academic Chair of The Imperial History Group) has agreed to listen to the ESE views in a meeting in Autumn 2020, because of the history of the Royal School of Mines.


What we will do in ESE 

We have more to do to address racial inequality and discuss the context of our Department’s history. We have planned actions and are developing structures to address our aim to be a more inclusive department.

Listening exercise

With the help of an expert facilitator, we will explore the experiences and views of staff and students in the context of recent global events (e.g. ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests in light of the killing of George Floyd), and ESE and Imperial’s institutional history. The aim of the listening exercises will be to deepen collective understanding within ESE of the issues of racial inequality. We will think about the context of ESE’s pioneers’ history and the institutional impacts upon the lives and experiences of colleagues, and students. The first sessions will take place in Summer 2020 for staff, and Autumn 2020 for students.

Equality Diversity Inclusion and Culture Committee

To support these changes, the Department of Earth Science and Engineering will form an Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Departmental Culture (EDIC) Committee in September 2020, in parallel to the equivalent committees at Faculty and College Level. The Athena SWAN Self-Assessment Team Lead will report into this committee on issues relating to gender equality.

Training for staff and students

The Department will host a number of new Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Culture training workshops. These will include sessions on racism, micro-aggressions and racial-sensitivity as well as any suggestions that may come out of the listening exercise.

Endowment review

In Summer 2020, ESE will review its endowments. The department has a number of funds that support our students or research, but which have a long and potentially complex history, so may benefit from an in-depth investigation. From this review, the Department will identify a source of continuous funds that can be used to provide financial support Black, Asian, and minority ethnic students to improve diversity in the department and widen participation.

University of Oxford Report

The ESE Management committee will explore how to take forward structural and procedural recommendations from an Oxford University report on improving recruitment and retention of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic students and staff in geosciences.


We always welcome feedback from our staff and students. Please email the Head of Department, Professor Mark Sephton.


Victoria Murphy

Victoria Murphy
Institute of Global Health Innovation


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