The National Museum of Scotland has been accused of ignoring the “violent” parts of Scotland’s history with a display that appears to praise Scottish colonial officers.

A sign on display as part of the ‘Global Scots’ section in the Discoveries gallery describes Scots involved in colonialism as being motivated by “high principles and personal ambition”.

The text – titled Scottish connections - added that “for many Scots, the Empire presented a chance to build a career, fulfill a new a better life and make money”.

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Nicola Perugini, a lecturer in International Relations at Edinburgh University, says he found the presentation of the display “extremely unsettling”.

"I came across the sign while walking out of the children area of the museum with my 15 month-old son and entering the section dedicated to the ‘Global Scots’, who are incidentally all men” Mr Perugini said.

“I felt there was something extremely unsettling with the idea of presenting settler colonialism as a ‘normal’ form of career development motivated by high principles. What would those who paid the price for colonialism and imperialism, and their descendants, some of whom live in our ‘postcolonial’ societies, think of such a way of framing their history of dispossession?

“I don’t know how deliberate the choice of the curator is of framing Scottish involvement in imperialism in this way. However, the effect is clearly one of normalising this involvement, and making it more acceptable to the non-critical public.”

Mr Perugini says he hopes the issue will raise a wider in debate in Scotland about the country’s involvement in colonialism and empire.

“At the University of Edinburgh there are ongoing conversations about how to make the curricula and our teaching more sensitive to the history of colonialism, imperialism, racism, and other forms of discrimination.

“I think that similar conversations should take place when it comes to the way in which museums display their objects.”

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The controversy comes ahead of a conference at Glasgow University later this month which is set to discuss Scotland’s role in the British Empire.

The ‘Rethinking Race in Scotland’ event features a panel discussion on “Scotland’s Imperial Past and Present”.

One of the panelists, Minna Liinpaa, who is an editor of the book ‘No Problem Here: Racism in Scotland’, says that it’s vital to account for the uncomfortable parts of Scotland’s history.

“These kinds of continuing uncritical representations of the relationship between the British Empire, slavery and the role of Scots – as exhibited by this NMS display – are extremely damaging as they ignore and erase parts of Scottish history,” said Ms Liinpaa, who is also PHD candidate in Nationalism at Glasgow University.

“You cannot understand the present without understanding the past, and we need to make sure we account for the uncomfortable and violent parts of Scotland’s past as well. This is extremely important from an anti-racist viewpoint.”

In the 1690s, the then Kingdom of Scotland attempted to create a colony called ‘Caledonia’ on Isthmus of Darien, which is modern-day Panama.

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However, the attempt failed and some historians argue that the financial calamity that followed led to the Scottish establishment surrendering sovereignty in the 1707 Act of Union with England.

Many Scots subsequently went on to play significant roles in the British Empire, as soldiers, colonial administrators, and traders.

The historian Professor Sir Tom Devine of Edinburgh University ?and author of the book ‘Scotland’s Empire’ says that modern displays in museums should reflect the “complexity” of the Scottish role in the Empire.

“The reality is that the Scottish role in Empire is complex. It is certainly the case that there were positive impacts in terms of some aspects of 19th century colonial administration, educational development and the role of Scots missionaries particularly in Africa,” Mr Devine said.

“However, there is a darker side to the story. And that aspect has been one of the foci of modern historical research, especially in relation to the Scottish role in slavery, the role of the Highland regiments in imperial expansion and the notoriety of Scots traders in the Canadian fur trade and the commerce in Opium.

“Modern displays in museums should always reflect this complexity and it probably is the case that older exhibits tend to emphasise the positive, rather than the mixed picture.

“I do know that both the National Museum of Scotland and Kelvingrove Musuem in Glasgow are urgently assessing displays which can give more focus on the Scottish role in the slave system.”

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In a statement National Museum Scotland said it welcomes debate on its displays but denied that it celebrated colonialism.

“The Discoveries gallery aims to reflect the innovation, invention and discoveries of the Scots since the 17th century and how this has shaped the national collections,” a spokeswoman said.

“It reflects the breadth and the depth of our 200 year-old interdisciplinary collections by focusing on a range of fields. The gallery presents the wide-reaching impact of the Scots during the period of the British Empire and does not set out to examine colonialism, neither does it celebrate it.

“We welcome debate around our displays and are always happy to receive feedback.”