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Cambridge University gained ‘significant benefits’ from slave trade, study reveals

The UK's University of Cambridge gained “significant benefits” from the transatlantic slave trade, according to new research on the prestigious varsity's historical links to slavery.

The research, commissioned in 2019 by Cambridge’s vice-chancellor Stephen Toope, revealed significant investments made by Cambridge colleges in firms involved in slave trade but found no evidence the university owned enslaved people or slave plantations.

The research showed the investments in the East India Company and the South Sea Company, as well as the wealth derived from slavery by the university graduates, fellows, and benefactors.

“The research found no evidence that the university directly owned slave plantations or slaves,” the university said in its announcement of the publication on Thursday.

“However, it identified significant benefits to the university and its colleges arising from investments in companies that were participants in the trade, from individual benefactors, and fees derived from the families of plantation owners.”

The report detailed investments made by colleges such as Gonville & Caius, Trinity, and King’s, with several investing in companies directly involved in the slave trade.

In other cases, colleges received donations from big investors in colonial companies such as the Royal African Company, the South Sea Company, and the East India Company.

“Such financial involvement both helped to facilitate the slave trade and brought very significant financial benefits to Cambridge,” the researchers noted.

The institution’s famous Fitzwilliam Museum is slated to hold an exhibition on slavery and power next year, the same museum that was “founded on money inherited from a governor of the slave-trading South Sea Company”, the report noted.

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“Such financial involvement both helped to facilitate the slave trade and brought very significant financial benefits to Cambridge,” the Legacies of Enslavement report said.

The findings came as leading institutions such as the Bank of England or the Church of England have been re-evaluating the key role they had in slavery and how they benefited from it.

The university vice-chancellor said it was “inevitable” a university “as long-established as Cambridge” would have links to slavery, and said slavery was until the 19th century “a widely accepted system of exploitation”.

Cambridge now plans to create and fund a “legacies of enslavement” research center to continue investigations, as well as increase financial support for black students, with dedicated scholarships for postgraduate students from Africa and the Caribbean, according to a report in the Guardian.

It also plans to commission works of art for its black graduates, and honor staff and students who campaigned for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade.

“It is not in our gift to right historic wrongs but we can begin by acknowledging them,” Toope said.

“Having unearthed our university’s links to an appalling history of abuse, the report encourages us to work even harder to address current inequalities – particularly those related to the experiences of black communities.”

The transatlantic slave trade that began on royal approval in 1663 was responsible for transporting millions of enslaved Africans to colonies in the Americas.

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