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Slavery and universities

Since the early 2000s, a number of American universities have begun to investigate, acknowledge, apologise for and commemorate their historical links with slavery - often having been pushed to do so by student activists. Similar developments in the UK have been slower, though the University of Glasgow launched an investigation in 2016 into gifts it had received from benefactors who owned enslaved people or had derived their wealth from slavery. Other British universities have begun similar investigations, though so far only Glasgow has announced that it will undertake a series of reparatory activities. In this seminar, we will discuss such developments, including the wider context in which they have occurred.

Seminar questions

  • Why have the legacies of slavery in different universities come under scrutiny over recent years? How have different institutions responded?
  • How do efforts to examine and reveal links between slavery and universities relate to the wider context of the 'Rhodes Must Fall' movement and calls to 'decolonise the university'?
  • How might you go about investigating and commemorating historical links with slavery at a particular university?

Required reading

Please read all three of the following:

Bhambra, Gurminder K., Dalia Gebrial and Kerem Nişancıoğlu, ‘Introduction: Decolonising the University?’ in Gurminder K. Bhambra, Dalia Gebrial and Kerem Nişancıoğlu (eds), Decolonising the University (London, 2018), pp 1-15. [e-book]

Campbell, James T., Leslie Maria Harris and Alfred L. Brophy, 'Introduction' in Leslie Maria Harris, James T. Campbell and Alfred L. Brophy (eds), Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies (Athens, GA, 2019), 1-18.

Beckert, Sven, Balraj Gill, Jim Henke and Katherine May Stevens, 'Harvard and slavery' in Leslie Maria Harris, James T. Campbell and Alfred L. Brophy (eds), Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies (Athens, GA, 2019), 224-250.

Required activity

Finally, look over as much of the following report as you can manage, but at least read pp 3-4 ('Introduction'), 14-15 ('Summary of findings') and 16-17 ('Moving forward: A programme of reparative justice'):

Mullen, Stephen and Simon Newman, 'Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow: Report and Recommendations of the University of Glasgow', History of Slavery Steering Committee, September 2018.

Further reading

Arday, Jason and Heidi Safia Mirza (eds), Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonising the Academy (Cham, Switzerland, 2018). [e-book]

Jansen, Jonathan (ed.), Decolonisation in Universities: The Politics of Knowledge (Johannesburg, 2019). [on order]

Kwoba, Brian, Oluwafemi Nylander, Rose Chantiluke and Athi Nangamso Nkopo (eds), Rhodes Must Fall: The Struggle for Justice at the Heart of Empire (London, 2018). [e-book]

Other links, last accessed 6/12/19.

* Universities Studying Slavery,, last accessed 11/12/19 - based at the University of Virginia, Universities Studying Slavery (USS) brings together a series of universities to facilitate mutual support as they seek to address historical and contemporary issues relating to race and inequality in higher education, as well as the legacies of slavery in modern societies (Warwick is a member). USS has run a couple of symposia and videos of the various talks are available here:

Usable Antislavery Past,, last accessed 11/12/19