Trinity College Dublin is set to embark on a two-year investigation of its historical links to slavery and colonialism. The College expects that the project will “examine, interrogate and reflect on its complex colonial legacies”. 

This move follows a number of UK based universities conducting investigations into their own historic links with slavery in response to the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer. Trinity Provost Dr Patrick Prendergast has confirmed that the investigation was inspired by the “debates that arose” during the Movement. 

One of the more controversial figures that has arisen in recent discussion of Trinity’s past is that of George Berkeley. The College’s library and annual Gold Medals for academic achievement share his namesake but, recent research has revealed he was a slave-owner in Rhode Island

Closer to home, the University has also admitted to benefitting from land confiscations during Ireland’s colonisation in the 16th and 17 centuries

Other issues open for investigation are the College’s links to the British Empire. In a statement, the University said that it once “had a curriculum to meet the demands of…empire”. They note that by the 19th century, the curriculum “ had evolved into an exporter of colonial ideologies and servants” with the College obtaining a vast collection of historical manuscripts and artefacts from “India, East Asia and Africa”. Closer to home, the University has also admitted to benefitting from land confiscations during Ireland’s colonisation in the 16th and 17 centuries.

Heading up Trinity College’s Colonial Legacies Project is Dr Ciaran O’Neill and Dr Patrick Walsh of the School of Histories and Humanities. Overseeing the project will be an Advisory Board staffed by Trinity Chancellor and former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese and Prof Vincent Brown amongst others. An open competition is also being held to find a student representative for the 24 month project. 

Commenting on the prospective research, Dr O’Neill said that “we are really excited about the […] project” and that it offers “an opportunity to have a critical conversation about Trinity’s multiple connections to empire. Ideally that would take place in an open and transparent process that is as inclusive as possible”. 

Dr Walsh also expressed his interest in “contribut[ing] to an important ongoing public conversation within Trinity and within Irish society about our colonial legacies and how they have shaped our complex present”. 

Rowan Kelleher – Assistant News Editor

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