Great start to 2023! The University of Durham in England Joins Universities Studying Slavery!

We hope everyone in the broader Universities Studying Slavery community enjoyed a restful winter break and is now diving enthusiastically into the new year. Here at USS headquarters, we continue to be busy working with schools eager to join the consortium and learn with us, exciting times indeed!

Today, we are proud to announce that the University of Durham in England represents the latest institution in the United Kingdom to sign on.

The University of Durham is the third oldest university in England. Founded by an Act of Parliament in 1832, it has had close connections with the Church of England throughout its history, particularly from its early days when the Archdeacon of Durham, Charles Thorp, and the Bishop of Durham, William van Mildert arranged for the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral to appropriate Church property for the purposes of establishing the University. For the first 80 years, the Dean and Chapter governed and financed the University, with degrees only open to members of the Church of England.

Durham mirrored the collegiate system in Oxford and Cambridge, with a number of colleges founded throughout its history, the earliest being University College (1837) and the most recent, South College (2020). From the mid-nineteenth century, the University expanded into Newcastle when the medical school transferred there, followed by the College of Physical Sciences (renamed Armstrong College. The Newcastle Division became a separate entity in 1963.

In the late nineteenth century, the University became affiliated with Codrington College in Barbados (1875) and Fourah Bay in Sierra Leone (1876), allowing the students of these two colleges sitting examinations for and receiving Durham degrees, until both became independent of the University in the 1960s.

Today, Durham University is a Russell Group university, recognized as a globally outstanding center of teaching and research excellence with a strong collegiate community. The university’s 26 academic departments or schools are divided between four faculties. Durham is a multi-cultural community, with over 120 countries represented in its staff and student bodies.

More important for the school and participation in the Universities Studying Slavery movement, the University of Durham, as part of its Race Equality Charter (REC) action plan, has launched “Legacies of Enslavement and Colonialism at Durham University.” Rachel Archbold, Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said: “As defined in the REC action plan, developing our understanding of the University’s involvement in colonialism and historical slavery is critical to our ongoing enriching and diversification work.” This new research project will begin to explore the University’s institutional archives and other sources in order to enhance understanding of any potential involvement with colonialism and historical slavery or income derived from historical slavery. University archivist Dr Jonathan Bush additionally commented: “This important project will investigate any historic links with slavery and colonialism, helping to inform and address any structural inequalities which may be embedded within the institution.”

Similar to USS-related work in the United States (On These Grounds), the second Durham REC project is to assess historic and current collections care and curatorial practice, which incorporates collections management, interpretation and access. The project will include internal and external stakeholders, who will have input into actions in response to the findings The resulting policy changes from this project will be written in line with emerging best practice in the sector.

We know all USS member institutions are thrilled to see the University of Durham launch these projects and eagerly await opportunities both to share guiding principles and best practices, and to learn from their work.