Legacies of Slavery in Scotland


The Young Curators Club at the Historylinks Museum, Dornoch, has recently run a fantastic 9-week programme for children to explore the legacies of slavery in Dornoch, with a specific focus on links between the town and the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. One of the key messages of the project was that although we cannot change the past, we must acknowledge and learn from it.    

The Young Curators Club project, ‘Legacies of Slavery in Scotland’, delivered a varied programme of events, including a field trip to Cromarty, an investigation of some of the stained-glass windows at Dornoch Cathedral (dedicated in memory of Lewis Hoyes, a slave- and plantation owner), in addition to visits from local historian Dr David Alston and founder of the Edinburgh Caribbean Association, Lisa Williams. As part of the project, the children also produced their own replica stained-glass windows as a response to the ones they studied in Dornoch Cathedral. These wonderful pieces of work, celebrating the message of love, peace and equality, will be exhibited at the Historylinks Museum in 2023, and will hopefully also be on display at Dornoch Cathedral alongside the windows donated by the Hoyes family.   

Stained-glass windows by the attendees of the Legacies of Slavery in Scotland project

Stained-glass windows by the attendees of the 'Legacies of Slavery in Scotland'-project. Photo courtesy of the Historylinks Museum, Dornoch


The funding for this project came via a financial gift to the UHI Development Office by a private individual, Maria McGill, a former student on UHI’s MLitt British Studies. Maria’s donation was inspired by the work of a lecturer on the programme, the UHI Centre for History’s Dr Jim MacPherson, and her request was for the funding to support a community engagement project, building on Jim’s scholarship, and relating to the theme of slavery and the Highlands and its impact on local communities today. Now that the YCC's project has concluded, Maria noted: 'What an amazing project this has been – it has way surpassed anything I thought might be possible. Jim, Lynne the curator at Historylinks Museum, Nicole the coordinator for YCC and the young curators are total stars. The creativity in response to their exploration of the Hoyes family and of the contribution of enslaved people to their local area is a delight to see'. 

Dr Jim MacPherson’s teaching at the Centre for History includes modules such as The Empire Strikes Back: How the Empire Shaped Scotlandin which students explore the impact of slavery, colonialism and empire on the Highlands and Islands, and the extent to which those legacies continue to shape the region in the present, and British Identities which incorporates a sustained examination of how the UK state’s attitude towards citizenship, ‘race’ and belonging have developed during the twentieth century.   

Dr MacPherson’s research has also suggested that postcolonial thought can be used as a tool for thinking about the present in the Scottish Highlands: taking a case study of collaborative inquiry between local communities, HighLife Highland (the body responsible for cultural services in the region) and the University of the Highlands and Islands into the work and legacies of the poet and historian James Macpherson (1736–1796), his article ‘History Writing and Agency in the Scottish Highlands: Postcolonial Thought, the Work of James Macpherson (1736–1796) and Researching the Region's Past with Local Communities’ examines the way in which the approach and ideas of postcolonialism can be used to better understand the past and critically engage communities in exploring their history. This article is available ‘open access’ meaning it can be read online for free without a paywall or login.   

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