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Glasgow University pledges reparation for slave trade profits

23 August 2019

A £20m funding package to support a new research centre to study the history and impact of slavery has been pledged by the University of Glasgow, in what is thought to be the first move by a British university to make amends for benefiting from the slave trade.

A memorandum of understanding signed in Kingston, Jamaica at the end of last month, and at an event in Glasgow today, commits the university to work with the University of the West Indies in the foundation of a Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research.

Co-located in Glasgow and the Caribbean, the centre will host events and activities, sponsor research work, coordinate academic collaborations with other universities, and help to stimulate public awareness about the history of slavery and its impact around the world.

The University of Glasgow has committed to raising and spending the £20m over the next 20 years. It is expected that the bulk of the funding will come from research grants and benefactions and that the centre will be self-supporting.

The agreement delivers one of a series of recommendations in a report based on comprehensive research conducted by the university into its links with historical slavery, published in September 2018.

Titled Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow, the report is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK. It acknowledged that whilst the University of Glasgow played a leading role in the abolitionist movement in the 18th and 19th centuries, it also received significant financial support from people whose wealth was derived, in part, from slavery.

As part of today's event, a plaque will be unveiled to mark the fact that the university's Gilmorehill base was built on the site of a house called Gilmorehill House, owned by a notorious 18th century slaveowner.

It will also feature the Scottish Makar, Jackie Kay reciting a specially commissioned poem, and the opening of a new exhibition, “Call and response: The University of Glasgow and slavery” in the university chapel, which features photographs and stories of a selection of objects to explore the often unknown and unexpected ways in which some items within the university’s collections are related to the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement.

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, commented: “We are delighted to both sign this truly historic memorandum of understanding with the University of West Indies and it is fitting that we do so on the UNESCO day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade. Talking about any institution’s or country’s historical links to slavery can be a difficult conversation, but we felt it was a necessary one for our university to have.”

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