Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Kim Traynor

Edinburgh University faces backlash over the renaming of the David Hume Tower

Edinburgh University has faced backlash over its decision to rename the David Hume Tower to 40 George Square, due to the new name’s potential links to the slave trade.

Research by third-year English student Rob Lownie suggests that the square was named after George Brown, an 18th-century soldier whose son-in-law David Wedderburn inherited three of the biggest sugar plantations in Jamaica, employing thousands of slaves.

Many academics have urged the need for Edinburgh to open up debate regarding the renaming.

Historian Sir Tom Devine, speaking on the principal Peter Mathison’s decision, said: “These new revelations have still failed to budge him and his senior managers from their stubborn policy of public silence on the issues, while damage to the University’s reputation continues unabated.”

Every human being requires to be seen in the context of his own time, and his flaws understood, not denied, in terms of his overall life and work, which in Hume’s case were meritorious

– Professor Joseph Farrell

He added: “A university of all places should be a place of free, robust and civilised debate. Why not at Scotland’s leading institution of higher education on this subject?”

Christina Sinclair, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “David Hume was an intellectual giant, but clearly not a saint, nor would he have wanted to be considered one.

“In the context of public monuments and buildings that are named after important figures, we do believe that it is important that appropriateness is reappraised as society’s values evolve, and that this needs to be done in a thoughtful, measured and inclusive way.”

Professor Joseph Farrell from the University of Strathclyde, wrote in an open letter for The Herald: “Every human being requires to be seen in the context of his own time, and his flaws understood, not denied, in terms of his overall life and work, which in Hume’s case were meritorious.”

Edinburgh University has responded to backlash, saying that the decision to rename the tower was a temporary one “until a full review is completed”.

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