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Cambridge University to dig into its colonial past


Press Trust of India London
The University of Cambridge on Tuesday announced a new investigation into its colonial past to explore how the 800-year-old educational institution dealt with slavery and may have benefited from it.
The two-year in-depth inquiry will see researchers trawl through university archives with a view to unearthing the ways in which slavery and forced labour during the colonial era impacted upon donations, gifts and bequests to the institution.
"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," University Vice Chancellor Professor Stephen Toope said.
He said that 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," he said.
The review follows a round-table debate at the university's Centre of African Studies in February on 'Slavery and its Legacies at Cambridge'.
An Advisory Panel, set up for the review in the wake of the debate, is chaired by classical archaeology Professor Martin Millett.
"This will be an evidence-led and thorough piece of research into the University of Cambridge's historical relationship with the slave trade and other forms of coerced labour," said Millett.
"The benefits may have been financial or through other gifts. 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.
The Cambridge review, expected to conclude by 2021, follows a number of similar moves by leading British universities in the aftermath of the "Rhodes Must Fall" campaign focussed around British colonialist Cecil Rhodes' connect with educational scholarships around the world.
The movement, which began in 2015, continues to resonate with calls for wider de-colonisation of curriculum across UK universities.
Last month, St. John's College at the Oxford University advertised a new academic post looking for a researcher to examine the university's contribution to creating and maintaining Britain's colonial empire.
The students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London have been running a "Decolonising SOAS" campaign aimed at addressing the "structural and epistemological legacy" of colonialism within the university.
It involves recognition and debate about the wide, complex and varied impacts of colonialism, imperialism and racism in shaping the university.

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First Published: Apr 30 2019 | 8:35 PM IST

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