Campaign to rename Edinburgh University building named after David Hume wins Students’ Union support

A campaign calling for Edinburgh University to drop the name of renowned philosopher David Hume from one its most prominent buildings due to his racist beliefs has won the support of the university’s Students’ Union.

Monday, 6th July 2020, 5:00 pm
Updated Monday, 6th July 2020, 5:13 pm
A campaign calling for Edinburgh University to drop the name of renowned philosopher David Hume from one its most prominent buildings due to his racist beliefs has won the support of the university’s Students’ Union

The news comes as higher-education institutions across the UK and USA have begun to rename campus buildings honouring historical figures who held racist views.

Edinburgh University Students’ Association publicly announced their support for the campaign to rename David Hume Tower on Monday, and encouraged students to sign an online petition calling for Edinburgh University management to act on the issue.

The petition, which was created by student Elizabeth Lund, has so far attracted more than 1,600 signatures.

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In a statement posted on Facebook, Edinburgh University Students’ Association said: “Over 1,500 students have now signed this petition to rename David Hume Tower. We wholeheartedly support the aims of this petition and encourage all students to sign it.

“We believe that the University of Edinburgh has a duty to lead the conversation on racial inequalities. In order to achieve this the University must acknowledge its own historic complicity in racial injustice, which continues today through the naming of its buildings after the likes of David Hume, and thus their honouring of these figures.

“Hume’s writings consistently evidenced his belief in the inferiority of non-white peoples, and his beliefs on race are extremely problematic and incredibly harmful to our student body.

“As well as renaming David Hume Tower, we urge the University to audit and return artwork that have historical links to the transatlantic slave trade and reassess the way it honours its alumni. These actions are a necessary first step in the fight against institutionalised racism and discrimination in Edinburgh.”

Hume was a Scottish enlightenment philosopher, economist, historian and essayist, famous for his work on human nature and morality.

He is widely recognised as one of the UK’s most accomplished philosophers and has been called ‘The Father of the Enlightenment’, however he also has a long history of spreading racist views.

In 1754, Hume wrote in an essay: “I am apt to suspect the Ne***es to be naturally inferior to the whites.”

Initially, Ms Lund’s petition called for David Hume Tower to instead be named after Julius Nyerere, the first President of independent Tanzania who is also a graduate of Edinburgh University.

However, the petition now states that due to Nyerere’s homophobic views and ties to dictatorship, the campaign’s sole focus is having Hume’s name removed.

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “The University takes issues around acknowledging its past very seriously. We are working with our students, staff and members of the community to thoughtfully explore how we address these matters. As this process continues, we will continue to encourage dialogue to ensure we are fit for purpose in the 21st century.”