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BREAKING: Edinburgh University drops 'David Hume Tower'

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Max Hunter

CW: racism, racial slurs

After an online petition to rename Edinburgh University's David Hume Tower reached over 1,700 signatures, the University has announced that the building will henceforth be referred to as '40 George Square'.

In a discreet announcement online, the University claims that this is an "interim" decision, prompted by the "sensitivities around asking students to use a building named after the 18th century philosopher whose comments on matters of race, though not uncommon at the time, rightly cause distress today".

The petition's creator, Elizabeth Kathleen, wrote an opinion piece for this site in July in which she urged the University to change the building's name, pointing to the philosopher's comments in a footnote of his 1748 essay 'Of National Characters'.

These comments made emphatic claims of African biological inferiority:

"I am apt to suspect the n*groes to be naturally inferior to the whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that complexion, nor even any individual eminent in either action or speculation."

This move comes in the wake of a summer dominated by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Parallels have been drawn between this incident and similar moves around the United Kingdom to challenge the commemoration of historical figures implicated in racism and colonialism.

The philosopher David Hume was one of the most prominent figures of the Caledonian Enlightenment, and is best remembered today for his contribution to the fields of scepticism and empiricism, arguing that human knowledge derives solely from experience.

The petition originally called for the building to be renamed after another Edinburgh alumnus, Julius Nyerere, the first President of post-independence Tanganyika and (after union with Zanzibar in 1964) of Tanzania.

However, his name was later removed due to the number of complaints its creator received, pointing to Nyerere's homophobia and links with Mao Zedong.

Cover image: Gabrielle Showalter

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