Slavery and colonial history consultation opens in Scottish museums

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Today sees the opening of a national consultation in Scotland to gather views on the representation of Scotland’s ties to empire, slavery and racism in museums.

The consultation, first announced last year, is part of the wider research profile of the Empire, Slavery & Scotland’s Museums project, supported by £ 159,000 in funding from the Scottish Government.

The two-year project will explore how the story of Scotland’s involvement in transatlantic slavery, empire and colonialism should be told using collections and museum spaces.

Responses to the consultation are collected via an online form. In it, respondents are asked about their interest in Scotland’s involvement in colonialism and historic slavery, their personal experiences with racism and concerns about inequalities, their interest in museums and the importance transparency in recognizing Scotland’s links to these issues.

The consultation form also states that Scotland is planning a dedicated space to discuss its role in empire, colonialism and historic slavery, and asks respondents to share their views on the plan.

Open until November, the consultation is being conducted jointly by the Edinburgh research firm Diffley Partnership and Intercultural Youth Scotland, a charity for black and colored youth (BPoC).

Museums Galleries Scotland said of the project: “People from all over Scotland were participants and drivers of the British Empire, both at home and abroad as politicians, businesses, traders, settlers, colonial administrators, soldiers, missionaries and forced migrants. The wealth generated by the systems of slavery and colonialism enriched Scotland at the expense of the places that were colonized. The legacy of colonialism remains today, as do the close ties between Scotland and its international diaspora.

The larger project, first launched in 2020, is coordinated by Museums Galleries Scotland, Scotland’s national museum and gallery development body. It is overseen by an independent steering group, chaired by Sir Geoff Palmer, human rights activist and professor emeritus at the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

Sir Palmer was a speaker at the Representing Reality session of the Museums + Heritage Show 2021 Summer Series. You can stream the session here.

Sir Palmer said: “I am a descendant of movable slaves who were enslaved in Jamaica, 1655-1838. Most of the slave plantations were owned by Scots, and Scottish surnames dominate Jamaica’s phone book. It is a great honor to chair this historic project which is sponsored by the Scottish Government.

“The aim is to enhance the role our museums and galleries play in informing the public about Scotland’s historic links to slavery, empire and colonialism, as well as the important contributions that Scotland’s black ethnic minority communities bring to Scotland today. ”

Culture Minister Jenny Gilruth added: “Museums should be inclusive and accessible spaces, where everyone can explore the most complex and difficult aspects of our history.

“I encourage everyone to participate to ensure that the diverse opinions of people across Scotland are heard. These perspectives will be essential as we continue our work to understand how museums and collections can better represent our shared past, and how this knowledge can help inform our future. “


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