My ancestor James Ramsay wrote a book criticising the horrors of the slave trade in the 18th century. Contrary to claims by the inquiry’s critics, racism was challenged even back then
The outrage expressed by various establishment figures and institutions at the decision by Cambridge University to hold a two-year inquiry into its historic links to the slave trade demonstrates the continuing sensitivity and relevance of the topic.
Critics of the inquiry claim that such focus on slavery is simply bowing to a trend, the suggestion being that there is little to be regretted and to apologise for. The Times has a leader with the flippant title “Slave to Fashion”, quoting with approval the conservative historian Elie Kedourie as saying that a common fault of the great powers is “imaginary guilt”.
A clutch of letters in the same newspaper make similar claims about the inquiry, one writer wondering if the issue is being raised “at a time when western mistreatment of the ‘colonised’ is news”. Others believe that much can be excused because racist opinions were common in the past, citing Charles Darwin as an example. Alternatively, they imply that the question of the slave trade has no more contemporary relevance than Britons enslaved during the Roman occupation of Britain or the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.