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University of Cambridge says it gained from slave trade

General view shows the University of Cambridge. Oct 1, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Childs/

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  • It owned no slaves, but received significant benefits
  • University and benefactors invested in the slave trade
  • Black scholars are celebrated, supported in new plans
  • Museum has recommended the return of Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

LONDON, Sept. 22 (Reuters) – Britain’s University of Cambridge said on Thursday it had profited from the proceeds of slavery throughout its history, pledging to expand scholarships for black students and fund more research into the murderous trade.

The recognition comes as a range of leading institutions – from the Bank of England to the Church of England – have reassessed the central role slavery played in enriching Britain and how they have benefited from its injustices. read more

Cambridge said an investigation it commissioned found no evidence that the university itself ever directly owned slaves or plantations. But the findings showed it had received “significant benefits” from slavery.

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Those came from university benefactors who made their living from the slave trade, the university’s investments in participating companies, and compensation from families who own plantations, according to the research report.

Researchers found that fellows from Cambridge colleges were involved with the East India Company, while investors in the Royal African Company also had ties to Cambridge — two companies that were both active in the slave trade.

The university also received donations from investors in both companies and also invested directly in another company active in the slave trade, the South Sea Company, according to the paper, which was produced by a group of Cambridge academics.

“Such financial involvement helped both facilitate the slave trade and provide very significant financial benefits to Cambridge,” according to the Legacies of Enslavement report.

It also said that while notable abolitionists such as William Wilberforce were educated in Cambridge and developed their campaigns there, their entire legacy needed further exploration, while prominent members of the university also defended the intellectual underpinnings of the slave trade.

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HISTORICAL ERRORS

Several people are also commemorated at the university with no reference to their involvement, the report said.

A statue to William Pitt the Younger, a university MP who served as prime minister in the late 18th century, makes no reference to his efforts to end abolitionism or restore slavery in Haiti after the revolution there.

Meanwhile, the Fitzwilliam Museum was established with money and artwork inherited from a South Sea Company governor.

In response to the report, the university said the museum would hold an exhibit on slavery and power in 2023, while Cambridge’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology had recommended that the Benin Bronzes, taken in a violent military campaign in the 19th century from a area that later became part of modern-day Nigeria.

A university in Cambridge returned a Benin Bronze last year, as did the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Other British institutions are also looking at their collections. The Bank of England said in August it was removing art depicting former governors associated with slavery.

Cambridge will also set up a dedicated center to research the legacies of slavery, deepen ties with universities in the Caribbean and Africa and increase postgraduate scholarships for black British students as well as those from Africa and the Caribbean, the statement said. university.

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It builds on a scholarship set up by rapper Stormzy, who in 2018 said he would fund places for black British students after criticism the university was not doing enough to ensure diversity.

The university also said it has received a donation to commission a black British artist to commemorate Black Cambridge scholars, and will install explanatory plaques to contextualize older statues of those linked to the slave trade.

“It is not our gift to correct historical mistakes, but we can start by acknowledging them,” Vice Chancellor Stephen Toope said in response to the report.

“After exposing ties to a horrific history of abuse at our university, the report encourages us to work even harder to address current inequalities, especially those related to the experiences of black communities.”

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Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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