Trinity launches study into its links with slavery and the British Empire

Jamie Mc Carron 


Trinity College (TCD) will begin a 24 month investigation designed to “examine, interrogate and reflect on its complex colonial legacies.”

Provost of the University, Patrick Prendergast, has stated that the killing of George Floyd last summer and the following Black Lives Matter protests caused “many months of deliberation” in Trinity and ultimately led to this project.

“Trinity’s Colonial Legacies Project” will focus some of its attention on the university’s Berkeley Library named after George Berkeley, an 18th century philosopher born in Kilkenny who attended Trinity.

The library was named after Berkeley in 1967, but it has since come to light following research from Yale University in 2001 that Berkeley bought several slaves while living in America.

George Berkeley Gold Medals are also awarded to Trinity College’s most esteemed students and researchers.

The principal investigators for this project will be Dr Ciaran O’Neill and Dr Patrick Walsh, both of Trinity’s School of History and Humanities.

Dr O’Neill told The College View that the study will likely uncover positive aspects of the university’s past, not just ties to slavery.

“Many Trinity figures were at the forefront of what we might now consider progressive political campaigns that were critical of the darker sides of empire and its legacies.”

“Two figures spring instantly to mind in Edmund Burke and Kader Asmal: the former a vocal critic of imperial scandals in the late eighteenth century and the latter a prominent anti-Apartheid campaigner in the second half of the twentieth century,” he said.

The university will also aim to reflect on the findings of the study and consider if changes need to be made to the campus.

“We hope to run a series of events in Trinity – accessible to all – where we discuss and debate what we as a university community should do about our colonial legacies. The outcome of those debates will be open ended and dependent on what our research uncovers,” Dr O’Neill said.

An advisory board will oversee the study, consisting of former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, several Trinity and Harvard University academics and a student representative.

An open competition will be held for a student postdoctoral research position on the advisory board, and the successful candidate will be “expected to audit the university’s links to Empire, assessing named prizes, endowments, and named buildings and statues on campus.”

Jamie Mc Carron

Image Credit: Flickr