University of Dundee Founders Project Final Report

Updated on 17 October 2022

A report into the institution's historical links with transatlantic slavery.

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A report commissioned by the University of Dundee

Report Author

Dr Cassandra Gooptar

Project Lead

Professor Graham Fagen

Project Team

Professor Graham Fagen, Professor Christopher Whatley, Dr Michael Morris, Dr Susan Mains, Matthew Jarron, Caroline Brown, Dr Cassandra Gooptar, Ajit Trivedi


In the wake of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and a socio-political climate which has prompted mainstream brands, established institutions and city councils to re-examine tangible and intangible vestiges of colonialism, the University of Dundee has selected a path of transparency and acknowledgement of its own historical past.

This research is part of a wider narrative which calls for a more holistic approach and recontextualisation of Britain’s imperial legacy. The UK is a multicultural society that includes descendants of the enslaved and communities from former British colonies. The alienation and underlying discontent felt by these communities is symptomatic of not only structural racism but also stems from a non-inclusive educational curriculum, skewed narratives of enslavers and general lack of significance attached to Britain’s imperial legacy and its interwoven nature with modern day systemic inequalities. As a result of mounting pressure and an impetus to counteract the traditional narrative, a number of universities in the UK and several city councils have started investigating their own links with historical slavery.

The University of Dundee has its roots in the University College Dundee, which was founded in 1881 with the donation of £140,000 (RPW: £14,400,000) from Mary Ann Baxter and her cousin, John Boyd Baxter. Her brother, Sir David Baxter’s, bequest of £20,000 (RPW: £1,830,000) laid the foundation for what would later become the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design. Given the firm of Baxter Brothers & Co immense wealth and linen exports to transatlantic markets, questions were inevitably raised on the issue of the University of Dundee and its links with slavery and the empire. This, coupled with concerns both internally and externally regarding the university’s built environment, highlighted the need for research into the provenance of bequests and donations to University of Dundee and affiliate institutions.

It is envisaged that this report, which is the culmination of three months of research, would provide a deeper understanding of the university and by extension the city’s links with slavery and the empire. Due to the short time frame of this project, an emphasis was placed on themes relating to Atlantic slavery and the enslaved people. However, exploration of Chinese indentureship and bonded labour in South America was explored due to its linkages with endowments to the university in the late 19th century. This report ultimately aspires to promote the conceptualisation of further works focused on Dundee’s role in Britain’s imperial past and feeds into numerous other projects spearheaded by the university and heritage sector in Dundee.

As part of Race Equality Week, students have created a copy of the Founders Report available on Sway.




Corporate information category Equality and diversity