On 26 April 2023, the University Board of Trinity College Dublin voted to dename the library currently bearing the philosopher George Berkeley’s name, a former slave-owner and vocal proponent of slavery. It will soon launch a community consultation to choose a new name.
Opened in 1967, the library was named in 1978 after George Berkeley, the world-renowned philosopher and former Librarian at Trinity. Berkeley published some of his most important philosophical works while at Trinity in the 1700s. He bought slaves – named Philip, Anthony, Edward and Agnes Berkeley – to work on his Rhode Island estate in 1730-31, and sought to advance ideology in support of slavery.
Today’s decisions were taken by the University’s Board following several months of research, analysis and public consultation overseen by the Trinity Legacies Review Working Group. Trinity decided that the continued use of the Berkeley name on its Library building is inconsistent with the University’s core values of human dignity, freedom, inclusivity and equality.
Slavery is not a thing of the past. Right now, almost 50 million people are trapped in slavery worldwide. What is modern slavery?
If you're interested in learning more about the Trinity Colonial Legacies Project, click here.
“Philip, Anthony and Agnes Berkeley were the property of George Berkeley, formerly a fellow at Trinity College Dublin and Dean of Derry in the Church of Ireland on his Rhode Island estate in the late 1720s. Berkeley was resident in Rhode Island from 1728, where he had acquired a plantation while setting plans in motion for a colonial university in Bermuda intended to educate missionaries to proselytise amongst the Native American population.”
- Memo From Vice Chancellor Mary McAleese, on behalf of the Trinity’s Colonial Legacies Advisory Board, addressed to Linda Doyle, Provost, March 2022.
Trinity’s main library was named in 1978 after the philosopher George Berkeley, whose history as a slave-owner has since been well documented. The Rename the Berkeley Campaign is a grassroots effort from students troubled by his presence within college. The Berkeley Memorial Window in the College Chapel, medals which are named after him, and most notably, the Berkeley Library. The Students' Union has and always will support any efforts College makes towards Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, but to ignore something so pivotal is to undermine any efforts made.
On Feb 22nd 2022, TCDSU voted to support a grassroots petition to rename the library. On August 23rd 2022, TCDSU de-named the Berkeley Library in all of its communications. Until the library is re-named by College, it will be referred to as The X Library in all TCDSU Communications.
Following the de-naming petition from students, the Trinity Colonial Legacies Project launched a public consultation on the name of the X Library. It is vital that the overwhelming majority of submissions oppose the commemoration of a former slave-owner on campus. TCDSU urges you to submit an evidence-based submission calling for the X Library to be re-named, you can write your own or use the template provided below!
Please note: All submissions will be published on this website
Tuesday January 31, 2023
My name is [Insert name]. As a student/alumni of Trinity College Dublin, I believe that it is unacceptable for our main library to bear the name of an individual complicit in the ideology and practice of racial discrimination and enslavement.
It is well-documented that George Berkeley bought and sold human beings in the early 18th century. As a bishop and philosopher, he was a vocal advocate for slavery as a social and economic institution. The "Working Paper on Berkeley’s Legacies at Trinity" published by the Trinity Colonial Legacies Project in November 2022 details that:
Berkeley's views were not a product of his time. It is false to argue that Berkeley had no agency in his actions or words. In his own time, we have a multitude of voices propounding the injustice of the slave trade, from the Quakers to the Irish philosopher and Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University, Francis Hutcheson. This anti-slavery opinion was widespread and familiar to intellectual circles. George Berkeley chose to support the enslavement of human beings.
The act of de-naming the X Library cannot and will not bury him or his work in Trinity's history. Scholars will still be able to study George Berkeley. Removing his name from the wall of our main library will not destroy his writings. Rather, it will represent our choice not to glorify an individual who dedicated his life to oppressing the lives of others.
An appropriate decolonisation of Trinity College would recognise that the Berkeley Library, the eponymous Gold Medals, and memorial window are no longer appropriate to the 21st century university that Trinity projects to the world. Their continued existence reflects poorly on Trinity College Dublin’s ability to meet its goals of inclusivity and the fostering of a positive environment in which students can learn. Berkeley’s continued lionisation is a failure on the part of Trinity College Dublin to engage with this problematic legacy.
For these reasons, I call on Provost. Linda Doyle, and Trinity College Dublin to:
As a University that claims to inspire the next generation of global citizens and leaders, we have a duty to engage critically with our past and change when necessary. The decision to name Trinity's main library after George Berkeley in 1978 was a mistake — retaining it would be another one.
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