Throughout history, the English have subjugated all their colonies and enslaved the locals through coerced labour on their way to building an empire-wide system of racial dominance and the crown gained substantially through profits made from these exploits.
In recent years, one of the focal points of debate within academic institutions has been on how universities and museums deal with this legacy. Following these footsteps, The University of Cambridge has commissioned two full time post-doctoral researchers to ponder over the vast university archives to know how much it gained from the slave trade and coerced labour in the colonial era in the form of specific financial bequests and gifts. The study comes on the heels of pressure mounting on universities in the UK and the US to acknowledge any connections to slavery. The study also aims to understand how the responsibility of the university scholars in shaping the opinion of politicians and the general public alike in validating, reinforcing and sometimes contesting racial attitudes which are repugnant in the current era.
The advisory group will deliver its report to the vice-chancellor in 2021, so the research findings currently lay deeply buried in the bowels of the university’s libraries and artifacts and what the study reveals could be anybody’s guess. Professor Toope, Cambridge’s vice-Chancellor, said “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.”
While it is good that the university is delving in its past to know more about its role in contribution to slavery during this period, it would be more important for them to take concrete steps to amend root causes of inequalities prevalent in today’s world and shouldn’t just benefit a select few.