Now Cambridge College removes a bell which has been on display for 25 years amid claims it ‘may have been used on a slave plantation’
- Bell was gifted to St Catharine’s College in 1960 and has now been shuttered off
- It comes as Cambridge University is to carry out inquiry into its slave trade links
- College is investigating the bell’s origins, according to an email sent to students
Cambridge University has shuttered off a historic bell amid claims it ‘most likely came from a slave plantation’.
The bell, which has now been removed from view, was gifted to St Catharine’s College in 1960 and placed in one of its accommodation blocks in 1994.
It comes as Cambridge University is to carry out a two-year inquiry into its links with the slave trade.
In a move branded ‘bizarre’ by equal rights campaigner Trevor Philips, a white professor who specialises in Roman archaeology has been chosen to oversee the study.
The bell, which has now been removed from view, was gifted to St Catharine’s College (pictured) in 1960 and placed in one of its accommodation blocks in 1994
As part of the project, St Catharine’s College has set about investigating the bell’s origins, according to an email sent to students on Monday, as reported by Varsity.
Professor Sir Mark Welland, master of the College, and Dr Miranda Griffin, the senior tutor, wrote that there is a ‘significant possibility’ that it was used on a slave plantation.
‘While we make more detailed enquiries into the bell’s provenance, the decision has been taken to shutter the bell off to remove it from view, ‘ it read.
‘Consultation is taking place across the college community about the appropriate and proportionate course of action in relation to the bell’.
Colonial legacy triggers campus rows
The inquiry follows a number of rows over the colonial legacy at universities.
Two years ago, a bronze cockerel was removed from Jesus College, Cambridge, following a student outcry because it had been looted from Africa in the 19th century.
The university agreed to hold discussions on the future of the Benin bronze, including possible repatriation to Nigeria.
Oxford students ran a campaign in 2015 to tear down a statue of the 19th century imperialist Cecil Rhodes. They claimed the statue, at Oriel College, was offensive to ethnic minority students, but the university resisted their demands.
At Manchester University last year, students painted over a mural featuring the Rudyard Kipling poem If, over claims the writer was racist. They said that because another of his poems, The White Man’s Burden, was offensive by today’s standards, all his other work should be ‘no-platformed’.
A decision about the bell is expected to be reached by next weekend.
A spokesman for the College said: ‘As part of the ongoing reflection taking place about the links between universities and slavery, we are aware that a bell currently located at the College most likely came from a slave plantation.
‘A more detailed investigation is under way into the bell’s provenance as part of a wider project researching the College’s historical links to the slave trade.’
Senior Tutor Dr Miranda Griffin said: ‘It is important that the College, along with the rest of the collegiate university, acknowledges historical links to slavery and the slave trade.
‘As an academic community, we will continue to conduct rigorous research into all aspects of our past and to reflect on our commitment to diversity, inclusion and asking challenging questions.’
It comes after the launch last week of a two-year inquiry into the University’s links with the slave trade.
The university will investigate how it benefited from the Atlantic trade in Africans in the 18th century, and how its scholars contributed to ‘repugnant’ views on race.
Professor Martin Millett will head the project in what the university described as a bid ‘to acknowledge its role during that dark phase of human history’.
Yet the decision was slammed by Trevor Philips, the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who said it was ‘bizarre’ the university had not given the job to a black academic.
Trevor Philips, the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said it was ‘bizarre’ the university had not given the job to a black academic. Pictured in 2014
He added that Cambridge would be making a more useful contribution by commissioning research into modern-day problems faced by people from ethnic minorities, such as discrimination resulting from the use of artificial intelligence.
Mr Philips told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday: ‘It is bizarre that, if they are trying to send a signal about what they are like, they couldn’t find a black academic to lead this.
‘That would have sent a great signal to the world that Cambridge understands that black folks are not just great entertainers or sportspeople, but that we can also be brainy.’
Announcing the study earlier this week, Cambridge vice-chancellor Prof Stephen Toope said: ‘There is growing public and academic interest in the links between the older British universities and the slave trade, and it is only right that Cambridge should look into its own exposure to the profits of coerced labour during the colonial period.
‘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.’
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