An academic has told how she's using walking tours to bring attention to Glasgow's history of slavery and links with empire.

Scotland's largest city was largely built on trade, with sugar and tobacco barons using wealth accumulated by using slave labour on plantations to shapes its streets and buildings.

Dr Rosie Spooner of the University of Glasgow has been leading walking tours of Kelvingrove Park, and Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery since 2017. The tours uncover these locations’ now invisible connections to imperialism, colonialism, and slavery.

She has also produced a podcast exploring how walking can help us to understand Glasgow’s hidden histories of empire, with the next walking tour to take place on Saturday, 21 October, 10.30am-12.30pm.

The tour is free and you can register here.

Dr Spooner tells The Herald: "So the kind of the genesis moment really came about through Black History Month, so it's really apt that we're having this conversation at the start of October, which in the UK is Black History Month.

Read More: University of Strathclyde linked to slavery in new report

“I was approached by someone at the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, CRER, which is Scotland's main anti-racism campaigning and research organisation.

“Crucially, CRER organises the official programme for Black History Month in Scotland, and I was approached by the community and campaigns officer at CRER, to develop a walk of Kelvingrove, one that took in both the park and the museum and that came about because I'd done a previous body of research around the international exhibitions that were held in Kelvingrove Park. That was the focus of my PhD research.

“I was approached by CRER to develop a walk that kind of used that research and shared it with wider, non-academic audiences. It really builds upon the really outstanding work that CRER had done around increasing knowledge and understanding, in particular of the Merchant City and the area around High Street.

"Kelvingrove Park is a really fascinating place in which to do these walks because there's very little within the landscape of the park that is a really direct, immediate visible tie to these histories, you know?

“So if we're in the Merchant City, for example, it's called the Merchant City for one thing!

“When we're in the Merchant City we see that Georgian architecture, we see the traces, we see the presence of that wealth. Within Glasgow's built heritage we see it in the street names: Jamaica Street, Virginia Street, the Cunninghame Mansion, which is the location of GoMA. It's very visible in many ways.

The Herald: Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow. 1945

"It does mean that, generally, people do come away with a really different perspective on the park. Because there's so little alerting us to this history as it currently stands."

While there has been an effort in recent years to highlight the leading role Glasgow played in the British empire and the slave trade, it's still a difficult subject for some.

Many prefer simply not to discuss the issue, while some are openly hostile to acknowledging Scotland's legacy in trans-Atlantic trade.

Dr Spooner says: "People who are more sceptical or more hesitant to acknowledge Scotland's involvement in the British Imperial project probably are unlikely to come on the walks.

“The descriptions are very clear – deliberately, and they should be I don't want people to kind of feel as though they've signed up to something and then it ends up being something completely different. That's not ethical.

"Generally speaking, the people who come on the walks are incredibly open to having conversations about these quite challenging topics. There's a real sense of openness, a willingness to to talk about these quite challenging issues.

Read More: University of Glasgow hosts world first reparatory justice course

"On the rare occasions - and I have to emphasise it has been super rare - that there have been moments of tension and moments of disagreement. I don't try and encourage that disagreement, obviously, but from the beginning of every single walk, I sort of really encourage that this is a space for dialogue, this is a space for conversation,, the information that I hold is not authoritative.

"Empire - so broadly conceived within that we'll take, we will include chattel slavery and colonisation and imperialism - had a had a shaping and determining influence on the world that we exist in today.

"I state that at the outset of every walk - even though the events, the people that we'll be talking about and thinking about over the two hours are in the past, that past had a shaping influence on the world that we live in today

"The world that we live in today would be radically different if European imperialism and European colonisation had not existed for 500 years, so for me you really can't separate the past and the present.

"The past continues to have a deep, deep impact on contemporary realities."

The Herald:

Scotland is far from alone in having atrocities in its past, though other nations have perhaps been more open about their own historical issues.

Germany has acknowledged its guilt for the holocaust and the other horrors of World War II, while America has been forced to wrestle with its own legacy of slavery - are Scots less willing to face up to the more unsavoury aspects of our collective past?

Dr Spooner says: "That’s such a complex question and one that myself and colleagues who study the history of empire and slavery reflect on constantly and grapple with.

“I do get asked this question quite a lot on the walks, that exact question.

"The response is always quite tricky, because I’m not Scottish – something we do discuss on the walks is the importance of positionality.

“My take on Scottish history is informed by the fact I’m not Scottish, I’m Canadian. I’ve lived in Glasgow for going on 20 years now and I have a great love for the city, Scottish culture and Scottish society – it’s my adopted home but I have a very different relationship to Scottish history and a very different relationship to Scottish identity that someone who was born and brought up in Scotland.

"Perhaps in the past there was a real hesitancy but I think in recent years that conversation has opened up.

“It’s much more part of public discussions and public discourse, so I think there’s a social shift toward being more open and more willing to have these conversations.

“That has probably been gathering pace over the last 10-15 years and during that time Scotland’s population has changed radically.

The Herald:

“Scotland has become a much more ethnically diverse place and I think that has a huge impact because it’s really important that people feel represented in the public realm.

"At the same time, I think there has just been a genuine increase in willingness to have that conversation among Scottish people, largely because of organisations like the CRER and other activist organisations constantly pushing the agenda.

“It’s extremely slow, challenging work but I think it’s now starting to come to fruition.

"I think fundamentally, acknowledging this central role that Scotland – and by which I mean Scottish people, Scottish businesses, Scottish institutions – at all levels of society played in the British imperial project upsets positive senses of national identity.

“That’s the most straightforward answer. Acknowledging that Scotland played a central role in colonial violence, an atrocity, destabilises positive conceptions of national identity.

“It makes it a really difficult topic to acknowledge, because it goes right to the heart of you. It’s understandable there would be discomfort around that because we all hold a sense of identity and we hold it really dearly.

“So being confronted with the fact that Scotland did this and that, and benefited financially in these ways - Scots are disproportionately represented across all levels of the imperial project.

“In terms of the wealth that was generated when slavery was abolished and there was compensation to slavers and plantation owners, Scots were disproportionately represented – way over-represented in terms of the number of people who received compensation and the total level of compensation. It was way out of kilter relative to the Scottish population.

“In the same way Scots were over-represented in the East India Company, in the British military – Scots were really involved, which then raises really difficult questions.

“It might, of course, unsettle a positive sense of Scottish national identity, and community identity, and personal identity.

“It becomes something that’s really difficult to acknowledge, and makes people not to talk about it or put it to one side because it makes them uncomfortable and makes them question their own sense of self.

“But that’s not unique to Scotland, that dynamic could be applied to every single country all over the world where there have been moments of atrocity, violence and conflict.

“As a Canadian, we grapple with Canada’s legacy as a settler colony, so I don’t think those levels of discomfort around involvement in empire is unique to Scotland.”

Register here to join the next walking tour of Kelvingrove Park.

Glasgow's slavery links

Here are some of the areas around the city where Glasgow's link to the trans-Atlantic slave trade can be seen.

The Doulton Fountain

The Herald:

Standing in Glasgow Green, the fountain features Queen Victoria in Empress of India regalia.

The design is a celebration of empire, with the figures around the base representing Canada, Australia, South Africa and India.

Tobacco Exchange, Virginia Court

This is where Glaswegians would trade and sell the tobacco and sugar they brought back from plantations, with slaves used to pick the leaves and cut the cane.

Tontine Heads

You'll find the Tontine Heads in the Trongate area of the city, with the crude charicature of a Native American figure designed as an allusion to the tobacco trade, which relied on slave labour.

Jamaica Street

Named after the biggest slave plantation island in the Carribbean, Jamaica Street was opened in 1763 at the height of Glasgow’s rum and sugar trade.

City chambers

Built in 1890, the topmost triangle of the main facade features Queen Victoria flanked by native people bringing gifts from the empire.

Buchanan Street

Named after the tobacco lord, Andrew Buchanan, who owned one of the first plantations in Virginia and is believed to have had over 300 slaves.

Cunninghame Mansion/GoMA

Built for William Cunninghame of Lainshaw, whose fortune from the tobacco and sugar trades were built off slave labour.

The necropolis

The necropolis was conceived by James Ewing of Strathleven, a slave owner who left behind the equivalent of over £20m when he died.

Glasgow Cathedral

The cathedral contains a number of dedications to tobacco and sugar lords, with Andrew Buchanan's burial plot located at the entrance.

David Livingstone statue, Cathedral square

Glasgow was also involved in the abolitionist movement, with Livingstone saying of the trade " to overdraw its evil is a simple impossibility".