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Opinion | It is time to rename Goldney Hall

On the other side of the argument, Alex Creighton weighs in as to why we must rename Goldney Hall in order to uphold the values the University claims to embody.

By Alex Creighton, Politics and International Relations, Second year

Last year, the University of Bristol conducted a series of consultations on the renaming of buildings with names of individuals associated with the Transatlantic slave trade. Since these consultations, the University has decided not to rename buildings with links to slavery. This decision has not been entirely welcomed by the student body. Last week, the History Society launched a petition in favour of renaming Goldney Hall. To learn more about the petition and the History Society’s position, read the new Epigram piece. These calls to rename Goldney Hall have reinvigorated debates around the University of Bristol’s links to slavery. So, should we rename Goldney Hall? Or keep its historical name despite its controversial nature?

Firstly, let’s consult the University of Bristol website. The website purports that ‘Our Values’ are: Curious and Creative, Listening and Learning, Caring and Inclusive, and Bold and Bristolian. These values, it is added, guide us ‘in everything we do’. We must, therefore, ask ourselves: does the association of a family who profited from the enslavement and trade of human beings with our institution embody these values?

To answer this question, it is helpful to understand a little more about who the Goldneys were. Thomas Goldney II was involved in voyages associated with the trading of enslaved Africans. The financial gains from these journeys facilitated the growth of family wealth and the construction of the Goldney estate, a portion of which came under the ownership of the University of Bristol in the mid-nineteenth century. This wealth was also used to invest in ironworks, which produced objects further facilitating the enslavement of Africans. To learn more about the Goldneys and the University of Bristol’s other links to slavery, read the Legacies of Slavery report.

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It is uncontroversial to state that the transatlantic slave trade constitutes an incalculably exploitative, harmful and shameful institution which casts a long shadow on the history of the West and on Bristol specifically. The association of individuals who profited from such an institution therefore comes into direct conflict with our values of caring and inclusivity. The renaming of Goldney Hall would better align the values we profess to embody with internal and external perceptions of the University of Bristol.

It has been argued by some, however, that, regardless of how controversial the history of a building is, renaming it risks going down a slippery slope towards revisionism and buries historical facts under performative, merely symbolic actions. The renaming of a building is performative, it is symbolic, but why is this considered a criticism? The words and symbols we choose to use signal our values, and shape the way we think. To continue to use the names of those involved in the slave trade therefore risks hypocrisy, and represents a cognitive dissonance in the university, especially considering the recent removal of Colston’s crest from the university crest.

Furthermore, who and what does keeping the memory of the Goldneys (and others like them) alive serve? Is the memory of those involved in extracting profit from such a deplorable institution worth keeping alive? It is, of course, important to be aware of these histories so as not to forget the suffering enabled by those like the Goldneys. This is quite separate from the glorification and uplifting of these individuals to the extent of naming parts of our university after them.

Image Courtesy Milan Perera// A discussion panel about the history of the university

By asking ourselves whether Goldney Hall should be renamed, we can start to ask other important questions. Questions like, do the names and actions of those involved in the transatlantic slave trade align with the values we want to promote as a university? Do we want to uplift the memory of those associated with the trading of human lives? Do we really want to embody our values, down to the
very symbols and words we use, or are these ideas simply not important enough to us? For me, all of these questions have similar answers. It’s time to rename Goldney Hall and all university buildings associated with slavery.

Want to read the other side of the argument? Check out Charlie Graff's article here.

Feature Image Courtsey: University of Bristol

What do you think about renaming Goldney?