Cambridge Slavery Researcher Quits Citing Pressure to Censor ReportHistorians in the News
tags: slavery, reparations, University of Cambridge
A researcher looking into Gonville & Caius College’s links with the slave trade has quit after facing pressure from fellows who objected to the findings of the report.
The report, commissioned by the College Council, aimed to see if the College had taken any donations from individuals connected to the slave trade.
However, Sam (not his real name), the postdoctoral student overseeing the report, claimed that after fellows produced an eighteen page criticism of his report in January, he was told that he’d have to change it with the help of someone who “knows the fellowship tone” – a demand he described as “censorship” and “the straw that broke the camel’s back” in leading him to cut ties with the College.
Sam said the fellows’ objections were “disproportionate” and expressed in a “distressing” way.
He also denounced the “non-academic working environment” he claims exists at the College, referring to the “cliquey behaviour of life fellows in cahoots”.
One figure the report identified was Bartholomew Wortley: a 18th century benefactor who still has a statue at the College today, and whose donation was essential for the buying of the College’s land. He held nearly £500 (roughly £57,000 today’s money) in investments in a company that was responsible for shipping thousands of slaves to the Spanish Americas.
However, life fellows, dons who do not teach regularly but hold a range of senior positions within the College, objected to the findings.
One accused the report’s researchers of trying to “slather the past” with the “moral wisdom of a particular fashionable ideology”, arguing it was “infused with the ideas of Critical Race Theory”.
In separate emails seen by Varsity, a different fellow said the report represented an “impending dark hour for the College”. Another agreed, asking “how many more disasters do we need?”.
They wanted the report to focus on the College’s role in abolitionism despite this not falling within the scope of the project and donations for this purpose being “minimal”, according to the Sam.