Edinburgh must ‘fill the gap’ on its role in the slave trade, says review group - Museums Association

Edinburgh must ‘fill the gap’ on its role in the slave trade, says review group

Recommendations include reinterpreting street names and researching city’s connections to slavery
A new plaque has been installed on Edinburgh’s Melville Monument, which is dedicated to 18th-century viscount Henry Dundas, to acknowledge Dundas’s role in the slave trade
A new plaque has been installed on Edinburgh’s Melville Monument, which is dedicated to 18th-century viscount Henry Dundas, to acknowledge Dundas’s role in the slave trade Bernt Rostad, Flickr

Edinburgh must do more to research and acknowledge its connections with slavery and colonialism, according to a review group set up in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement.

The independent Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review was established to conduct an 18-month public consultation on how the city should address its historic role in slavery and empire. The group’s 10 recommendations and proposed action plan will be considered by city councillors this week.

Among the recommendations, the group is advising the city council to retain and re-interpret street names and monuments associated with the slave trade and colonialism, develop teaching and learning materials to “fill the gap” in knowledge about city’s past, and fund studies into under-researched aspects of Edinburgh’s connections to slavery and empire.

The 10 recommendations
  • For the council to publicly acknowledge the city’s past role in sustaining slavery and colonialism, and to issue an apology to those places and people who suffered.
  • Statues, monuments, buildings and street names associated with slavery and colonialism in Edinburgh are retained and represented in accordance with a new, dedicated interpretation strategy which explains the nature and consequences of that involvement.
  • City-wide observance of the annual, Unesco-designated International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition every August 23 is introduced and resourced.
  • Teaching and learning materials are developed and delivered to fill the gap in respect of Scotland’s and Edinburgh’s role in slavery and colonialism.
  • Friendship agreements are initiated with cities in countries most impacted by Edinburgh’s historic involvement with slavery and colonialism.
  • Universities and research bodies are encouraged to fund, develop and publish studies into the many under-researched aspects of Edinburgh’s connections with slavery and colonialism, prioritising the objectives of the new interpretation strategy.
  • A significant public artwork is commissioned acknowledging Edinburgh’s links with slavery and colonialism. This initiates the development of a city-wide strategy for public art that fairly represents the diversity of the city and its histories, and capitalises on the creative potential of a multi-cultural city.
  • A positive programme of cultural commissions is established, empowering and resourcing emerging Black and Minority Ethnic creatives in Edinburgh to participate in and shape existing festivals, arts and heritage programmes.
  • For the council to endorse the work of the Empire, Slavery and Scotland’s Museums steering group (ESSM) which was established by the Scottish Government, and commits to exploring how the capital can contribute to the creation of a dedicated space addressing Scotland’s role in this history.
  • An independent legacy stakeholder group is established, supported by the council, to ensure approved recommendations are actioned, resourced and monitored, and progress is reported annually.

In all, more than 4,000 people and 35 organisations took part in the review.

The review follows the publication of a report by the Scotland-wide Empire, Slavery & Scotland's Museums Steering Group earlier this year. Both groups were chaired by scientist and human rights activist Geoff Palmer.

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Council leader Cammy Day said: “We commissioned this independent review because we felt it was an important and useful starting point for a wide-ranging public discussion about the modern-day impact of this legacy, and to acknowledge that race-based discrimination has deep roots in our capital…

“Thanks to the work of the group we have 10 recommendations to consider that reflect the opinions and preferences of our residents about this subject. I would like to thank the group and chair Sir Geoff Palmer for their time and commitment to undertaking this review. I look forward to the discussion next week and consideration of how the recommendations can be taken forward.”

Palmer said: “On behalf of the review group, I would like to thank the City of Edinburgh Council for its innovative decision to commission an independent review of the city’s links with slavery and colonialism. It was a great honour to chair these groups.

“Having spent over 50 years in scientific research I am delighted that the recommendations of this review are based on sound methodology and that this project has attracted positive attention from different parts of the world. In general, the recommendations indicate that the racism and discrimination that exist in our society can be changed for the better using education and public engagement.”

If approved, the action plan will be taken forward by the council. Some recommendations will be implemented quickly, while proposals for how medium and long-term recommendations will be brought back to the committee once they have been further developed.

Join us in Edinburgh this November

A session at this year’s Museums Association Conference on 3-5 November in Edinburgh will explore the work of the the Empire, Slavery & Scotland’s Museums Steering Group.

Book your place today

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