LONDON (AA): One of Britain’s most prestigious universities launched a two-year academic study on Tuesday into its gains from slavery and other forced labor practices in the country’s colonial era. The study by Cambridge University’s Centre of African Studies will also investigate how scholarship at the school might have reinforced, validated or perhaps challenged race-based thinking at the time.
“It is only right that Cambridge should look into its own exposure to the profits of coerced labor,” said a vice-chancellor of the university. “We cannot change the past, but nor should we seek to hide from it,” said Stephen John Toope. He added that the process should help the university “acknowledge its role during that dark phase of human history.”
“We cannot know at this stage what exactly it will find but it is reasonable to assume that, like many large British institutions during the colonial era, the university will have benefited directly or indirectly,” he added. “The benefits may have been financial or through other gifts. But the panel is just as interested in the way scholars at the university helped shape public and political opinion, supporting, reinforcing and sometimes contesting racial attitudes which are repugnant in the 21st century.”
Researchers will study historical links to the slave trade and explore whether the university should pay reparations. The investigation is the first of its kind in England and Wales. Slavery was a common practice throughout Britain’s colonial era stretching from the 16th to the end of the 18th century during the golden age of the British Empire, which at one point governed one-fourth of the world population. The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 formally freed 800,000 Africans who had been the legal property of British slave owners.