A DEDICATED space to address Scotland’s role in empire, colonialism, and historic slavery should be created and led by a new organisation as well as tackling racism are among the key recommendations of a report submitted to the Scottish Government.

 

The Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums Steering Group has made several recommendations on how existing and future museum collections and spaces can better recognise the country’s slave trade links but also as part of a national commitment to anti-racism.

The Scottish Government is also being urged to demonstrate their support for restitution and repatriation of looted or unethically acquired items in Scottish collections.

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Other findings of the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums project, sponsored by the Scottish Government, included recommending museums should ensure anti-racism is embedded in their workplaces and public spaces and that museums should involve the people of Scotland in shaping their work.

Scotland's slave trade history should have its own space, says reportSir Geoff Palmer says there may be challenging and uncomfortable work ahead, but will be worth it to ensure that museums and galleries are for all of Scotland’s people

The steering group's chairman Sir Geoff Palmer said there may be challenging and uncomfortable work ahead, but will be worth it to ensure that museums and galleries are for all of Scotland’s people.

The report also recommended museums should commit to research, interpret, and share the histories of Scotland’s links to empire, colonialism, and historic slavery. Charitable trust Glasgow Life, which runs culture and leisure on behalf of Scotland’s largest local authority, is already leading the way in this area.

Scotland's slave trade history should have its own space, says reportGlasgow's Kelvingrove has already begun to reveal the history behind empire or slave trade objects

The Herald reported how new interpretation labels are about to be added to displays at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, aiming to reveal to visitors more about the history of some objects on display and highlighting untold stories behind the collections.

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Sir Geoff Palmer, chairman of the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums Steering Group, said the recommendations marked a milestone in Scotland’s tradition as a forward-looking nation.

The scientist and human rights activist said: “Museums hold a special place in my heart, as they offered a haven for me when I first came to the United Kingdom from Jamaica more than sixty years ago. History and education live in museums, and I believe museums can and should be a haven for all. The recommendations by the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums Steering Group mark a milestone in Scotland’s tradition as a forward-looking nation.

“Taking a brave stance, acknowledging the part this country has played in shaping the world of today and being ready to see that glorious and inglorious histories co-exist, support us to move forward in a progressive way. The work that lies ahead may sometimes feel challenging and uncomfortable but will be worth it to ensure that museums and galleries are for all of Scotland’s people.”

Scotland's slave trade history should have its own space, says reportA painting by Sir Henry Raeburn of Mr and Mrs Robert N. Campbell of Kailzie, that hangs in the Scottish Identity in Art gallery will have a further label added that explains that the subjects were owners of a plantation in Grenada with 232 enslaved Africans. Picture Robert Perry.

Abeer Eladany, Curatorial Assistant, University of Aberdeen Museums and Special Collections, and member of the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums Steering Group said: “I hope that these recommendations promptly guide the decisions to be made by Scotland’s museums and galleries, and that full and honest stories about the objects housed within these colonial structures are made available to the public.”

She hoped the recommendation which highlighted the need for change in the way collections are managed and presented and will gradually become the norm.

"Scotland has an opportunity to lead this change by implementing these recommendations,” Ms Eladany added.

Culture Minister Neil Gray MSP said welcomed the report and added: “The Scottish Government sponsored this independent group as part of our Programme for Government commitment to look at how our existing museums, and those set up in the future, can present a more accurate portrayal of Scotland’s colonial and slavery history.

“We will carefully consider these important recommendations and discuss them with the steering group, before responding to them.

"We will continue to work closely with Museums Galleries Scotland to raise awareness of the role Scotland played in slavery and empire and to ensure our collections reflect this.”

In Glasgow visitors will see changes taking effect in coming weeks when untold stories of artefacts linked to the slave trade and empire will be explained.

Duncan Dornan, Head of Glasgow Life Museums said: “Museums are often the places that tell us most about who we are and who we want to be, so we have been determined to recognise Glasgow’s role in transatlantic slavery and colonialism and how the city benefitted. As part of a long-term project that will change how we display and interpret the city’s collection, these labels, which are being added at Kelvingrove, mark an important first step in a continuing process which is beginning across Scotland. Visitors should learn more about Glasgow and our history as a result and understand more about the real cost of some of the city’s collection.”