‘Slave’ clocks’ days are numbered as university decolonises curriculum

'Slave' clocks' days are numbered as university decolonises curriculum

Time is up for the terms “master” and “slave”, a university has ruled, as changes are made to the technical vocabulary traditionally used to describe types of clocks.

Timepieces often fall into the categories of either a precise “master” device or the “slave” devices that follow it, in the manner of multiple clocks in schools or offices, but these traditional terms have come under control.

Clocks will no longer be referred to as “master” or “slave”, the University of Salford has decided, as part of efforts to “decolonise the curriculum”.

A lecturer on the university’s music technology course raised the issue of horological terms in a PowerPoint presentation “Decolonising the Curriculum” seen by The Telegraph, stating that “language has traditionally [about] setting a ‘master clock’ that all other devices ‘slave’ to”.

Some academics have sought to move away from terms associated with slavery, and Salford has confirmed that it has decided to drop traditional terminology for bells.

A spokeswoman said: “Recently the music technology industry has been trying to change some of its language.

“At the university, the industry is very embedded in everything we do, so we follow their guidance when it comes to the right choice of terminology. This is a universal language that fits naturally into education.”

The university has not confirmed what terms it will use in place of master and slave, but provided an external contextual article on the issue that suggested terms such as “leader” and “follower” could be used instead of words “referring back to slavery”.

The move comes as part of changes brought in to “decolonize the curriculum”, the process of making courses more diverse and interesting to people across different cultures, which has seen sonnets demoted in creative writing assessments at Salford because they “products are of white western culture”.

Follows trends in coding

Salford has said in internal material that “decolonised” and “inclusive curricula” better “reflect and cater for a diverse society”, with staff advising that courses could be improved by using materials “that are accessible and familiar to all students”.

Dropping “master” and “slave” also follows a trend in coding, with technology companies trying to drop the word “master” (for a main code or process), which typically controls a “slave.”

The changes at Salford go against more than a century of tradition, with master and slave clocks dating back to the 19th century. Early examples include the Shepherd’s Gate Clock installed in Greenwich in 1852, which has been used by the public to set their watches to Greenwich Meantime ever since.

The clock for the public on the site is a “slave” clock, one that has its display dictated by a very precise “master clock”, which in the case of Greenwich is inside the observatory. One communicates with the other via electrical wiring.

This system of having a network of smaller clocks synchronized by a more advanced and accurate “master” became common, especially in large organizations where employers and students had to operate at exactly the same time.