Cambridge University investigates its links to slavery

The University of Cambridge on Tuesday announced an investigation into its historic links to slavery, looking at bequests from traders and how its academics might have influenced “race-based thinking”.

The two-year project will seek “appropriate ways to publicly acknowledge past links to slavery and to address its impact”, the British institution said.

It is the brainchild of Canadian vice-chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope, and will be conducted by two full-time doctoral researchers, overseen by an advisory panel.

“There is growing public and academic interest in the links between the older British universities and the slave trade,” Toope said in a statement.

“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.”

The chairman of the advisory panel, Professor Martin Millett, said the probe would look at bequests to departments, libraries and museums.

“But the panel is just as interested in the way scholars at the university helped shape public and political opinion, supporting, reinforcing and sometimes contesting racial attitudes which are repugnant in the 21st century,” he said.

Universities in Britain and the United States have in recent years faced protests by students over their past associations.

In 2016, Cambridge’s Jesus College removed from its main hall a bronze cockerel statue stolen with other artefacts from the West African kingdom of Benin in the 19th century.

Around the same time, rival Oxford University faced an angry but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to remove a statue of 19th-century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

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