Trinity College Dublin is to dename the Berkeley Library while adopting a retain-and-explain approach to a stained-glass window commemorating George Berkeley [26 April 2023].
Portraits depicting Berkeley will be assessed in the future by a new overall College policy on artwork, while the academic Gold Medals memorialising Berkeley will be reviewed by the relevant academic department.
These decisions represent a nuanced approach and are the result of careful consideration and detailed analysis.
Opened in 1967, Trinity’s largest library was named in 1978 after George Berkeley, the world-renowned philosopher, and former Librarian at Trinity. Berkeley published some of his most important philosophical works while at Trinity in the 1700s. He bought slaves – named Philip, Anthony, Edward, and Agnes Berkeley – to work on his Rhode Island estate in 1730-31 and sought to advance ideology in support of slavery.
Today’s decision was taken by the University’s Board following several months of research, analysis and public consultation overseen by the Trinity Legacies Review Working Group, which is considering legacy issues on a case-by-case basis.
Trinity decided that the continued use of the Berkeley name on its library is inconsistent with the University’s core values of human dignity, freedom, inclusivity, and equality. The denaming does not deny Berkeley’s importance as a writer, philosopher, and towering intellectual figure. His philosophical work will still be taught at Trinity and remains of significant contemporary relevance. A separate process will determine what the new name for the library should be.
Trinity’s Provost Dr Linda Doyle said:
“The landscape of a university, especially one as old as Trinity, is not static. Each generation of students and staff deserves a chance to influence decisions. In this case, it was our students who called on us to address the issue. We welcome their engagement, and we thank the Trinity Legacies Review Working Group for its assistance in providing evidence-based information to underpin this decision.
“George Berkeley’s enormous contribution to philosophical thought is not in question. However, it is also clear that he was both an owner of enslaved people and a theorist of slavery and racial discrimination, which is in clear conflict with Trinity’s core values.”
Professor Eoin O Sullivan, Senior Dean and Chair of the Trinity Legacies Review Working Group, said:
“I am grateful to all those who contributed their time and expertise to the consideration of this critical issue. We received close to 100 submissions from members of the public, alumni and our own students and staff on this matter.
“Especially influential on our thinking has been the pioneering work at the universities of Glasgow, Dalhousie, Brown, and Harvard, all of which have faced similar issues to those we face at Trinity as we reckon with our past. We are committed to addressing issues around Trinity’s complex legacy, from an evidence-based perspective and on a case-by-case basis.”
Helen Shenton, Librarian and College Archivist at Trinity College Dublin, said:
“Technological advances, societal changes and cultural evolutions shape the Library for each generation. Libraries are both fundamental constants in the university and simultaneously constantly in flux.
“The Library building known today as the ‘Berkeley’ started out as the ‘New’ Library in 1967. As a 21st century Library, another name change prioritises the current generation of students’ experience of a welcoming and supportive Library space. There is the opportunity to be creative and imaginative in response to this change.
“Trinity will continue to hold George Berkeley’s philosophical works in the Library collections and continue to teach and to research his works.”
Background on Trinity’s process:
Trinity’s Legacies Review Working Group (TLRWG), comprising Trinity students, professional staff, academic staff as well as external members, began an evidence-based review of the issues around the Berkeley last year.
This followed a call from the Trinity College Dublin Student Union to dename the library.
93 written submissions were received about George Berkeley by the end of January 2023. These included submissions from current students and staff, emeritus staff, alumni and international experts on Berkeley and other associated subjects. Of these, 47 were in favour of de-naming the library, 23 suggested new names for the library and should be seen as broadly supportive of de-naming, even if renaming was outside the brief of this consultation. There were 16 submissions that supported retaining Bishop Berkeley’s name on the library.
All submissions made on the topic of George Berkeley can be downloaded and read here (https://www.tcd.ie/seniordean/legacies/).
For a working paper on Berkeley’s legacies at Trinity prepared for TLRWG, see here (https://www.tcd.ie/seniordean/legacies/berkeleyTLRWGworkingpaper.pdf).
The role of the TLRWG is to document the historical evidence on specific legacy issues, to seek evidence-based submissions from the College and wider community on each identified issue, and, based on the evidence collated, provide options for consideration to the relevant decision-making authority (College Board, Faculty Executive or School Executive) as is appropriate and determined by the Working Group. The Terms of Reference for the Group can be read here: https://www.tcd.ie/seniordean/legacies/TLRWGToR.pdf
A brief biography of George Berkeley
George Berkeley was born at Dysart, Co. Kilkenny in March 1685. Educated at Kilkenny College, he entered Trinity College Dublin in March 1700, receiving his BA degree in February 1704. He took holy orders and became a fellow of Trinity by competitive examination in 1707. He subsequently held several college offices including Librarian (1709), Junior Dean (1710), junior Greek Lecturer (1712), senior Greek lecturer (1721), Divinity lecturer and preacher (1721) senior Proctor (1722) and Hebrew lecturer (1723) before relinquishing his fellowship in 1724 to become Dean of Derry. As Librarian in 1709 he was instrumental in overseeing the building of the then new library, now the Old Library.
While at Trinity he published the three books upon which his fame and reputation as a philosopher rests. The first of these, An essay towards a new theory of vision was published in 1709 and developed his ideas on vision which would later support his more famous immaterialist hypotheses. His Treatise concerning the principles of Human Knowledge followed in 1710 and is regarded as his masterpiece. It developed his full-blown philosophy of materialism or subjective idealism and continues to have a major influence on modern philosophical scholarship. Finally, the third of these pioneering works, Three dialogues between Hylas and Philonous was published in London in 1713. His reputation established; Berkeley embarked on two extensive grand tours of Europe from 1714-20 before eventually returning to his fellowship.
While Dean of Derry, he developed his idea for establishing a university in the American colonial territory of Bermuda. This eventually involved Berkeley moving to Rhode Island in 1729 where he purchased a farm at Whitehall worked by enslaved people.
Upon his return from America and following a period living in London with his growing family, Berkeley was appointed to the provincial bishopric of Cloyne, in which role he remained until his death. During this period, he wrote his influential work on Irish political economy, The Querist (1735-37), as well a series of other pamphlets.
More detail on Berkeley’s memorialisation at Trinity
Berkeley Memorial Window
The Berkeley Memorial window is one of three major pieces of stained glass sited in the chancel of the College Chapel and dates to 1866. It is not well-known – even within the College – and the only scholarly article written about it is a 1972 piece by E.J. Furlong in Hermathena, from which the bulk of the following description is taken. The idea of a window dedicated to Bishop Berkeley emerged alongside suggestions for windows in honour of Archbishop Ussher and Richard Graves, Dean of Armagh and was approved by Board in 1867. It was funded by the gift of £300 from Richard R. Warren, then MP for Trinity, and a further gift of £72 from the incoming Provost Humphrey Lloyd – both given in 1867. Designs were considered for the window in February 1868, and the London firm of Clayton and Bell were successful.
Bishop Berkeley’s Gold Medals
On 8 May 1752, ‘the Provost and Senior Fellows agreed to give annually, forever, two Gold Medals for the encouragement of Bachelor of Arts in the Study of the Greek language: having received a Benefaction of one hundred and twenty guineas, besides a die, from the Right Rev. Dr. George Berkeley, Lord Bishop of Cloyne for that purpose.’ These medals are still listed in the College Calendar today but have not been awarded by the Dept. of Classics since 2011.
The Department of Classics has a preference to dename Bishop Berkeley’s Gold Medals.
There are three portraits of George Berkeley in the College art collection. One, by Robert Home (1782), is hung in the Examination Hall, another, by Francis Bindon (1733), is in the Senior Common Room, and the last is by James Latham (1743).