Facilitating the 'Silk Road of Knowledge': Southern Voices and the Manchester Universities Experience

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The ancient 'Silk Road' was a complex network facilitating the transfer of people, goods and ideas over vast distances, ultimately influencing and linking vastly differing cultures and societies the length and breadth of the known world. For the last century or so, universities and institutions of learning in the West have been the physical destinations and 'stopping-off points' for thousands of travellers on a 'Silk Road of Knowledge', situated at the crossroads of highways bearing information flowing from the local to the global and global to local - information that has played its part in transforming the societies of the world. The ancient 'Silk Road' encompassed the infrastructure which facilitated the mutual exchange of precious goods and commodities between East and West. Has a similarly mutual exchange of knowledge been facilitated by the institutions care taking the infrastructure of our 'Silk Road of Knowledge'?

As part of ongoing research on the international student experience in the UK past and present, I am currently studying the archive of a voluntary organisation based in Manchester called Southern Voices (concentrating on the period from its foundation in 1990 to 2005). Its stated aim has been to allow voices from the 'Global South' to be heard on their own terms in the 'Global North'. Groups as well as individuals from the Global North have traditionally taken it upon themselves to speak on behalf of the Global South, in general ignoring the actual history and contribution of the Global South in presentations of views of the past which prioritise the interests and perspectives of the Global North.

Southern Voices emerged as an independent entity from an initiative originated in the Development Education Project based on the Didsbury campus of Manchester Polytechnic (soon to become Manchester Metropolitan University/MMU). University-based resources have been significant in its development. These resources include office spaces on University of Manchester and MMU campuses; venues off campus amongst university buildings used for holding meetings and other functions; collaboration and liaison with course leaders and Student Union representatives at the universities; a pool of international students from the Global South from which to recruit volunteers to help design and deliver educational and cultural projects to inform immigrant and other communities in Greater Manchester of Global South perspectives, contexts and issues. These international students, coordinated by Southern Voices, worked at different times with schools, the Manchester Museum, The Hat Museum in Stockport, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Tate Museum, Liverpool.

Here was an intriguing confluence bringing together the public, academia and Global South citizens in circumstances conducive to an exchange of information that could transform their lives. But how easy was the relationship between the small group of volunteers and the bureaucratic hierarchy represented by the universities? Was this ultimately a mutual exchange? Were the universities of the Manchester region facilitators or ultimately hindrances in this innovative attempt to nurture a Manchester contribution to the 'Silk Road of Knowledge'?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFacilitating the 'Silk Road of Knowledge'
Subtitle of host publicationSouthern Voices and the Manchester Universities Experience
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventMapping the Historical Geographies of Higher Education in Greater Manchester Symposium: Session: "Student Experience" - University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Nov 2016 → …


ConferenceMapping the Historical Geographies of Higher Education in Greater Manchester Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period9/11/16 → …


  • International student experience
  • Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre
  • Southern Voices archive (Manchester UK)
  • Silk Road of Knowledge
  • The Manchester Museum
  • Jaya Graves


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