Edinburgh University renames David Hume Tower over 'racist' views

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David Hume towerImage source, Geograph

Edinburgh University has renamed its David Hume Tower over the philosopher's "comments on matters of race".

The building, which will be used as a student study space this academic year, will now be known as 40 George Square.

An online petition claiming David Hume "wrote racist epithets" and calling for the building to be renamed has been signed more than 1,700 times.

The university said Hume's comments on race, "though not uncommon at the time, rightly cause distress today."

It said its work had been "energised" since the death in the US of George Floyd and campaigning by the Black Lives Matter movement.

A number of cities have been reviewing the way in which public statues glorify figures associated with slavery and the colonial era, after a series of Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

In Bristol, a statue of slave trader Edward Colston was removed by protesters in June.

And in Edinburgh, it has been proposed to dedicate a controversial Henry Dundas monument to those enslaved because of his actions. New signage will explain that Dundas was "instrumental in deferring the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
An online petition claimed David Hume "wrote racist epithets"

A statement explaining the decision to rename the university's building said: "It is important that campuses, curricula and communities reflect both the university's contemporary and historical diversity and engage with its institutional legacy across the world," the statement said.

"For this reason the university has taken the decision to rename - initially temporarily until a full review is completed - one of the buildings in the central area campus."

It added: "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 the decision was taken ahead of a "more detailed review of the university's links to the past" and work is "considering many other issues beyond the naming of buildings".

'Championed white supremacy'

Elizabeth Lund, who started the online petition, wrote alongside it that Hume "wrote racist epithets not worth repeating."

She said: "Nobody is demanding we erase David Hume from history. However, we should not be promoting a man who championed white supremacy."

She added that Hume's writings should be learned about with context.

"There is no reason the tallest building on campus should be named after him."

Dr Felix Waldmann was the David Hume Fellow at Edinburgh University in 2016, and is now a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge.

He wrote in The Scotsman: "There is no question that Hume was a brilliant philosopher, whose writings have shaped modern philosophy and Scottish culture."

However, he added: "The history and morality of the matter is clear: Hume was an unashamed racist, who was directly involved in the slave trade."