David Hume: University of Edinburgh launches review of buildings linked to slave trade

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Edinburgh University has laid out plans to examine links between its buildings and the slave trade – so that it can take “practical steps” to reflect diversity.

A consultation into the university’s links with racism is set to last around a year and will bring together experts from a range of fields to inform how the University addresses its historical links with race.

The steering group, chaired by Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, will create a forum for respectful debate, seek views from local and global communities and provide recommendations regarding the outcomes from a review of the University’s history with respect to race.

Sir Geoff Palmer said that the review would involve looking further into David Hume Tower and other buildings, as well as statues.

It comes after controversy involving David Hume Tower in George Square, which was renamed to 40 George Square after a petition highlighting the racist views of the 18th Century philosopher gained traction.

The petition launched by students citing Hume’s links to the slave trade claimed he “wrote racist epithets” and attracted more than 1,700 signatures.

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Professor Emeritus Sir Tom Devine, who formerly held the Sir William Fraser Chair of Scottish History and Palaeography, said he was “amazed” by the university’s decision to remove David Hume’s name in September.

He said he would have “fought tooth and nail against” it were he still employed by the university. 

He said: “To say that I am amazed by this decision of the University of Edinburgh is a very great understatement.

 ‘He was a man of his time’: Sir Tom Devine slams decision to remove David Hume’s name from Edinburgh university building

“I was honoured to hold the Sir William Fraser Chair of Scottish History and Palaeography at Edinburgh, acknowledged as the world’s premier professorial post in the field, from 2OO4 until my retirement.

“If still employed by the University I would I have fought tooth and nail against this decision.”

“In History we teach our students not to indulge in the intellectual sin of anachronistic judgement ie never to impose the values of today on those of the past.

“‎In 1762, the year of David Hume’s reported letter on the plantations, there is no evidence that any groups in Scotland opposed chattel slavery in the colonies.

 

“The surge of abolitionism and widespread horror at man’s inhumanity to his fellow man only came later.

“In that sense, Hume was a man of his time, no better and no worse than any other Scot at the time.

“By the criterian of this this stupid decision, the whole of Scotland in that period deserved moral condemnation.”

Sir Tom spoke out in June against attacking statues of public figures connected to the slave trade after the monument of Henry Dundas in Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square became the subject of heated debate. 

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He added: “David Hume was and is the greatest philosophical mind Scotland has every produced.

“His alma mater has now traduced him. The current Principal of Edinburgh should hang his head in absolute shame.

A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh said: “The review is an evidence-based assessment of the University of Edinburgh’s past associations with the Transatlantic slave trade, colonialism and other aspects of race and racism.

“The purpose of the review is to produce an academically-led, research-based report on the University’s history in relation to racial inequality.

“The report will address the challenges identified during the review process and produce recommendations for practical steps the University might take to better reflect the diversity of its past, across campus and in other ways, including the recognition of key figures from its history.

“The process will be highly consultative with students, staff, alumni and wider relevant stakeholders asked to take part.

“It will remain open to the widest possible sources of information and viewpoints.

“The process will support respectful debate and consensus building and we envisage it lasting for a year.”

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