Edinburgh University renames David Hume tower over racist comments

It follows a petition from students.

Sunday, 13th September 2020, 12:21 pm
Updated Sunday, 13th September 2020, 12:22 pm
The David Hume tower will be renamed 40 George Square.
The David Hume tower will be renamed 40 George Square.

Edinburgh University has renamed the David Hume tower over the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher’s comments on race.

It follows a petition from 2,000 students in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests over the killing of George Floyd.

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The decision, taken by the university’s Equality and Diversity Committee, will be temporary until a full review is completed.

"The interim decision has been taken because of the sensitivities around asking students to use a building named after the 18th century philosopher whose comments on matters of race, though not uncommon at the time, rightly cause distress today,” the university said in a statement.

From the start of this academic year the building will be known as 40 George Square.

It will also be re-purposed to provide extra study space to accommodate social distancing.

The university also plans to conduct a more detailed review into how it commemorates history, including around the naming of buildings in future.

An online petition to rename the tower has so far gained 1,800 signatures.

Founder Elizabeth Lund wrote: “Nobody is demanding we erase David Hume from history.

"However, we should not be promoting a man who championed white supremacy. That is mutually exclusive with the goal of reducing the harm caused by racism at Edinburgh University to students of colour.

"We can take Hume's writings and learn about them in context, but there is no reason the tallest building on campus should be named after him.”

Historian Dr Felix Waldmann, Fellow at Christ’s College Cambridge and David Hume Fellow at Edinburgh University in 2016, recently called for the tower to be renamed in an article for The Scotsman.

Dr Waldmann revealed evidence that Hume had been involved in the slave trade in his 2014 book Further Letters of David Hume.

Hume also wrote in a 1753 essay, Of National Characters, that “negros” are “naturally inferior to the whites”.

While these were common views and behaviour at the time, Dr Waldmann argued that Hume was sufficiently intelligent and wealthy to be able to denounce racism and the slave trade if he wished.

"There are many questions to consider when removing a statue or expunging name from a building,” he said.

"As we have found with the debate over the Melville Monument, these questions are aesthetic, moral, and historical.

"In Hume’s case, the history and morality of the matter is clear: Hume was an unashamed racist, who was directly involved in the slave trade.”

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