Cambridge Legacies of Enslavement Inquiry delivers initial report

The University of Cambridge Legacies of Enslavement Inquiry delivered its first report this week outlining its plan of action and initial recommendations.

This will be an evidence-led and thorough piece of research

Professor Martin Millett

The interim report for the Inquiry, led by Professor Martin Millett, outlines a plan of action from Lent Term 2020 that includes research conducted by two new Research Fellows to be based in the Centre for African Studies working in an interdisciplinary context across the University, and information gathered from related work across the Collegiate University.

In support of this research, the report said the Inquiry will use its website and an email list to provide current information about the project and related activities across the Collegiate University and to serve as a hub for research and engagement around the theme.

A priority over the next two years will be presenting the Inquiry and seeking input on it from a broad audience, both within the University and beyond. In addition to an ongoing series of public forums and seminars, the Inquiry will seek to support research and public-facing engagement on enslavement and its legacies by students, staff, and organisations and institutions throughout the University.

Discussions are also progressing with the University of Cambridge Museums about an exhibition in 2022 that will explore aspects of the subject and a plan for the work to culminate in a major international conference in 2022. Other ideas include involvement in University outreach events and programmes.

In all this, the Inquiry welcomes proposals and ideas for collaboration from across the Collegiate University.

An external advisory panel comprised of academics from King’s College, Warwick University, Bristol and the University of Edinburgh has also been added to provide help and advice to the Inquiry.

The Inquiry was convened in April 2019 by Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope to advise him ​on the University of Cambridge’s historical links with enslavement and on the legacies of those links in light of the growing public interest in the issue of British universities’ historical links to enslavement and the slave trade.

The two-year inquiry will explore University archives and a wide range of records elsewhere to uncover how the institution may have gained from slavery and the exploitation of coerced labour, through financial and other bequests to departments, libraries and museums.

It will also investigate the extent to which scholarship at the University of Cambridge, an established and flourishing seat of learning before and during the period of Empire, might have reinforced and validated race-based thinking between the 18th and early 20th Century.

Professor Millett said: “This will be an evidence-led and thorough piece of research into the University of Cambridge’s historical relationship with the slave trade and other forms of coerced labour. 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 from, and contributed to, the practices of the time.”

The Advisory Group is expected to deliver its final report to the Vice-Chancellor in 2022. Alongside its findings on historical links to the slave trade, the report will recommend appropriate ways for the University to publicly acknowledge such links and their modern impact.

Full initial report