This collaborative research project in partnership with the University of Edinburgh explores the history and legacy of Scotland’s connections with the transatlantic slave trade through objects in public collections.

‘The Matter of Slavery in Scotland’ aims to raise public awareness and understanding of the difficult, and long-neglected, topic of Scotland’s historic connections with the Atlantic slave system. Despite recent interest, the links between slavery and Scotland have not been fully explored in existing scholarship or public representation of the past. This workshop will develop strategies and methodologies to help fill the gap.

  • Archibald McLauchlan, John Glassford and his Family © CSG CIC.

    Archibald McLauchlan, John Glassford and his Family © CSG CIC.
  • Graham Fagen, still from ‘The Slave’s Lament’ © Graham Fagen.

    Graham Fagen, still from ‘The Slave’s Lament’ © Graham Fagen.
  • Rectangular mahogany box with silver mounts, used to contain a silver sugar bowl and pair of tea bottles: English, London, by M.I., 1762. National Museums Scotland, A.1979.502 F.

    Rectangular mahogany box with silver mounts, used to contain a silver sugar bowl and pair of tea bottles: English, London, by M.I., 1762. National Museums Scotland, A.1979.502 F.
  • Dr Jonathan Troup’s Dominican diary, 1788-1790 © University of Aberdeen.

    Dr Jonathan Troup’s Dominican diary, 1788-1790 © University of Aberdeen.
  • Melville Monument, St Andrews Square, Edinburgh.

    Melville Monument, St Andrews Square, Edinburgh.
  • Porcelain teacup with poetry extract, from The Empire Café. At the pop up café in Glasgow, during the Commonwealth Games in 2014, visitors discussed new understandings of Scotland’s slavery past over the products of empire. National Museums Scotland, X.2017.89.4.

    Porcelain teacup with poetry extract, from The Empire Café. At the pop up café in Glasgow, during the Commonwealth Games in 2014, visitors discussed new understandings of Scotland’s slavery past over the products of empire. National Museums Scotland, X.2017.89.4.
  • Metal object said to have been used for branding the skin of enslaved people in the West Indies, c.18th-19th century. National Museums Scotland, H.NN 12.

    Metal object said to have been used for branding the skin of enslaved people in the West Indies, c.18th-19th century. National Museums Scotland, H.NN 12.
  • Sir William Allan, The Slave Market, Constantinople © National Galleries of Scotland. Purchased 1980.

    Sir William Allan, The Slave Market, Constantinople © National Galleries of Scotland. Purchased 1980.
  • Copper wash still, originally coal fired, manufactured in Glasgow in the 1960s. This object is similar in size and construction to those exported from Britain to the Caribbean in the eighteenth century. National Museums Scotland, T.1996.259.

    Copper wash still, originally coal fired, manufactured in Glasgow in the 1960s. This object is similar in size and construction to those exported from Britain to the Caribbean in the eighteenth century. National Museums Scotland, T.1996.259.


Bringing together university researchers, curators, teachers, and charities, the workshop will take a material culture approach to examine objects from Scottish collections. Those objects will be considered through the lens of slavery to build tools for integrating the topic into museum displays and public history narratives, and so shift and enhance understandings of the role of slavery in Scottish history. Outputs will include three workshops to drive further discussions about slavery in Scotland’s past and a resource for teaching in schools.

The project is supported by a Research Network Grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh. It is led by Professor Nuala Zahedieh, University of Edinburgh (Principal Investigator) and Dr Sarah Laurenson, National Museums Scotland (Co-Investigator).


Upcoming events

The Matter of Slavery

6 Jun 2019 
18:30–19:45
Auditorium, Level 1, National Museum of Scotland, entry via Lothian Street
Free, ticketed

Join us to explore the history and legacy of the transatlantic slave trade through objects in museums, galleries and historic houses.

Book in person at our museums, call 0300 123 6789 or book online.

Past events

Material Technologies of Empire: Tobacco, Textiles & Race in Everyday Scottish Life, c. 1660-1820

Friday 26 April 2019
17:30-18:30
Meadows Lecture Theatre, William Robertson Wing, Doorway 4, Old Medical School, Teviot Place, EH8 9AG
Free

Professor Beverley Lemire (University of Alberta) will give the second of two public lectures relating to The Matter of Slavery in Scotland project.

From rainforest to parlour: Revealing the history of slavery in mahogany furniture

Fri 7 December 2018
17:30-18:30
Meadows Lecture Theatre, William Robertson Wing, Doorway 4, Old Medical School, Teviot Place, EH8 9AG
Free

Professor Jennifer Anderson (Stony Brook, New York) gave the first public lecture for The Matter of Slavery in Scotland project, in collaboration with National Museums Scotland. 

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