Addressing our historic links to slavery

We are on an ongoing journey to address the legacy of slavery. While we have already taken some action, there is much more to do and this is not the end of our work on this important subject.

What action are we taking?

We can now share the analysis of those key early connections between early benefactors of the University and the global slave trade in an article by Dr Natalie Zacek (an expert on slavery in our School of Arts Languages and Cultures) and Professor Nalin Thakkar (Vice-President for Social Responsibility).

We are also mindful of the fact that work has already been carried out in various parts of our University which has helped to get us to this point. Part of this publication process is to draw together this research in one place.

This includes:

Dr Natalie Zacek on researching links to slavery

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The monolith outside The John Rylands Research Institute and Library, Deansgate, Manchester.
The signage at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library has been updated to reflect the links between Rylands’ fortune and the transatlantic cotton trade.

Connecting with activities across Manchester

We have also been supporting the city of Manchester’s own reflections on historic statues, monuments, memorials and artworks, through our spin-out charity, Manchester Histories, and as an institution as part of the Histories, Stories and Voices in Manchester’s Public Realm (PDF, 832KB) public consultation.

One of the outputs of this review was for the City Council to create a Heritage Object Review – a database of objects, including, statues, monuments, memorials and artworks in the public realm – and we are fully engaged in this.

We have already taken action on our campus. For example as a result of the John Ryland Research Institute and Library’s own research, signage has been added to reflect the links between Rylands’ fortune and the transatlantic cotton trade. 

We're in the advanced stages of developing a Black History Trail, telling well-known, but seldom heard stories of the contribution made by Black pioneers throughout history. It will also include the experiences of our current Black students. The trail will be available online and in physical locations – workshops have been delivered in local schools, with more planned.

What else is going to happen?

While we have already taken some action, there is much more to do and this is not the end of our work on this important subject.

Now that our initial analysis is complete, we are funding some more detailed research that will be overseen by Dr Natalie Zacek, who has written our initial article and carried out other research into this issue at the University. Natalie is currently on a fellowship at Harvard studying ‘The Price of Knowledge: British Universities and Slavery’.

This will be in depth, and so take time, but these findings will be made public.

In light of our additional research, we will be considering what needs to change in the way we talk and think about our campus. This includes further work on building signage, on our webpages connected to our history and wider promotional materials. Our history and heritage webpages have been updated and will continue to evolve.

This is not the limit of our actions – we are on an ongoing journey to address the legacy of slavery, including in current our work to address modern forms of slavery. A range of this work is cited in these additional sources of information.

Get involved

We want to hear the views of as many members of our community as possible on this subject and have opened a survey (PDF, 368KB) for staff and students, which will close on Tuesday, 31 May 2022.

The results of this survey will be considered by our Race Matters Group, which is comprised of staff and student representatives, and will help to drive further actions. These new actions will be reported on and the findings of the survey will be published.

Register for the free lunchtime lecture, Cottonopolis: The Making of Global Manchester, hosted by the John Rylands Research Institute at 12pm on Thursday, 26 May. The lecture will use the library's extensive collections to delve into the history of the city and explain why it became the home of Britain's cotton revolution. 

This is part of our commitment in the Race Matters Report to share outcomes and seek feedback.