University of Cambridge to investigate links to slavery

The University of Cambridge has set up an inquiry to establish how it benefited from and contributed to the slave trade.

In an attempt to "acknowledge its role during that dark phase of human history", the two-year investigation will seek to uncover the ways the institution profited from slavery and forced labour during the colonial era through donations, gifts and bequests.

It will also look at the extent to which Cambridge scholars promoted race-based attitudes which helped shape public and political opinion.

Two post-doctoral researchers are to conduct the investigation, looking at university records and archives.

Oxford is just one of the institutions to announce in recent times its intention to look at links to slavery.

In 2017, Yale renamed Calhoun College to instead honour Grace Murray Hopper, who helped transform people's use of technology.

John Calhoun was a former US vice president and known slavery advocate.

Yale president Peter Salovey said at the time: "The decision to change a college's name is not one we take lightly, but John C Calhoun's legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a 'positive good' fundamentally conflicts with Yale's mission and values."

Estimates vary, but somewhere between 10 million and 28 million Africans are believed to have been shipped across the Atlantic between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Many died on the way.

The people used as slaves were made to work on sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations.

Britain abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807 although the full abolition of slavery did not follow for another generation.

Professor Stephen Toope, University of Cambridge vice-chancellor, said: "There is growing public and academic interest in the links between the older British universities and the slave trade, and it is only right that Cambridge should look into its own exposure to the profits of coerced labour during the colonial period.

"We cannot change the past, but nor should we seek to hide from it. I hope this process will help the University understand and acknowledge its role during that dark phase of human history."

The final report is expected to "recommend appropriate ways for the university to publicly acknowledge such links and their modern impact", the university said.

Professor Martin Millett, chairing the advisory group overseeing the work, added: "We cannot know at this stage what exactly it will find but it is reasonable to assume that, like many large British institutions during the colonial era, the University will have benefited directly or indirectly from, and contributed to, the practices of the time."

The findings are expected to be submitted in 2021.

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