Berkeley name to be removed from College library in landmark “denaming”

College has said that the continued use of the name of the slave-owning philosopher “is inconsistent with the University’s core values of human dignity, freedom, inclusivity and equality”

College will dename the Berkeley Library and begin a process to decide on a new name, the Senior Dean has announced.

In an email to the College community today, the Senior Dean Professor Eoin O’Sullivan said that the continued use of the name “is inconsistent with the University’s core values of human dignity, freedom, inclusivity and equality” owing to George Berkeley’s ownership of slaves and ideological support for slavery.

According to the email, the decision was made at a meeting of the College Board today, following a months-long process of research, analysis and public consultation.

The new name for the library will be determined by a separate process, and that the Trinity Legacies Review Working Group “will continue to engage with Trinity’s legacy issues on a case-by-case basis”.

O’Sullivan, who chaired the Legacies Review Working Group Trinity College Dublin responsible for this process, added that College will adopt a “retain-and-explain approach” to a stained-glass window commemorating George Berkeley in the chapel.

Portraits of Berkeley will be assessed according to a new overall College policy on artwork, while academic awards bearing Berkeley’s name will be reviewed by their relevant academic departments.

“The decisions represent a nuanced approach and are the result of careful consideration and detailed analysis,” O’Sullivan said.

“As well as denaming the library, the university will examine ways to explain this action.”

He added that the renaming of the library “does not deny Berkeley his importance as a writer, philosopher and intellectual figure”.

“His philosophical work will still be taught at Trinity and remains relevant today.”

Some, including a former pro-Chancellor of the university, have called for the name of the library not to be changed, arguing that to do so would “do great damage to the works of one of the great scholars of this College”.

The library, first opened in 1967, was named after George Berkeley in 1978, who published much of his philosophical work while a librarian at Trinity in the eighteenth century.

As documented in a paper by Trinity academics, Berkeley later bought at least four slaves, recorded as Philip, Anthony, Edward and Agnes Berkeley, to work on his Rhode Island, and sought to advance ideological support for slavery.

Provost Patrick Prendergast first said that College would be open to renaming the library in 2021, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement which gave rise to global debate surrounding the legacies of colonialism and racism.

David Wolfe

David Wolfe is a Junior Sophister student of History and Political Science. He is the current Social Media and Managing Editor of Trinity News, having previously served as News Editor, Assistant News Editor and copyeditor.