Edinburgh University reviews its links with slavery and colonialism and could decide to make reparations
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And the two-year project – set to be one of the most in-depth and wide-ranging reviews of its kind – could lead to the university deciding to make reparations for its past involvement. The review panel, which involves experts from a range of disciplines, also wants to include as many voices as possible in the review and is inviting community organisations, heritage bodies and groups engaged in reparatory justice initiatives to join students, staff and alumni in sharing their perspectives.
It follows an independent review of the Capital’s links with slavery and colonialism, which reported in August 2022, and an official apology on behalf of the city given by former Lord Provost Frank Ross two months later.
A team of dedicated researchers will trawl historical archives to build the clearest picture yet of the university’s involvement in the Atlantic slavery economy and colonialism. Among the initial findings are records from the UK’s oldest debating society, The Diagnostic Society of Edinburgh, uncovered by researcher Dr Simon Buck, who found that while the society was in favour of boycotting sugar produced by enslaved people in the 18th century, some members may have gone on to make money from plantation slavery.
Dr Buck will also explore how specific disciplines within the university, including the School of Medicine, were “entangled” in the trafficking and enslavement of Africans. Meanwhile another researcher, Dr Yarong Xie, will run an in-depth survey exploring the current attitudes towards race and experiences of racism within the institution today. The review is set to make recommendations by the end of 2024 that will inform future university policy.
The project – Decolonised Transformations: Confronting the University of Edinburgh's Legacies of Enslavement and Colonialism – is being led by Professor Tommy Curry, personal chair in Africana Philosophy and Black Male Studies, and Dr Nicola Frith from the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures.
Professor Curry said: “Edinburgh is in a position to work in a way unlike other institutions by approaching reparations and reparative justice as a community-led process. It is, of course, essential groundwork to conduct historical research and establish the facts. But the process of engagement needs to be part of the reparatory work itself. In this way, we cannot pre-empt what will be said or the actions that the university will take at the end of the process. However, we will continue to share our work, and encourage members of the community to participate and create a culture in which we can all thrive.”
The university’s previous work in this area has included a review of its curriculum, improving the representation of Black and Minority Ethnic students and staff, and promoting an anti-racist culture on campus. Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the university, Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, said: “Edinburgh’s work in this area will be academically-led, sector-leading, conducted with integrity and will strengthen us as a global institution. The review will look back into the University’s history in order to find collective ways to forge our future.”