The recent announcement from the University of Glasgow that it benefited from donations from the profits of slavery amounting to the equivalent of tens of millions of pounds serves as another reminder of the long and complex money trail behind Britain’s role in transatlantic slavery. The way that universities, museums, religious bodies and other institutions around the world deal with the legacy of benefactors with links to slavery has become a major area of debate. These difficult histories must be acknowledged and confronted when assessing the place of transatlantic slavery in Britain’s public history. The Remembering 1807 archive highlights the ways in which heritage organisations and community groups around the UK tackled such uncomfortable questions in 2007.
It is now about twenty years since I became interested in the involvement of Scots in the slave plantations of the Caribbean. From my own still limited research I could see that it was extensive. Yet on my first visit to The Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, shortly after it opened in 1998, I noted that there was not a single reference to slavery, the slave trade, or slave-worked plantations. While migration from Ireland to Scotland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was deemed to be important, with a whole gallery devoted to the ‘movement of peoples’, the involvement of Scots in the forced migration of twelve million Africans to the Caribbean and North America did not merit one word. How could a national institution, with all the benefits of modern scholarship, not notice this?