Glasgow University to lead 'imperial connections' mapping project of historic sites

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A project seeking to detail the “imperial connections” and potential links to the slave trade of Scotland’s most historic sites will be led by the University of Glasgow.

It comes after Historic Environment Scotland (HES) launched their search for a contractor to undertake the 18-month long commission, which will create family history timelines.

These timelines will reveal the imperial links of past owners of some of Scotland’s most historic buildings, with the project covering 336 “properties in care” of the quango.

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Properties under the care of HES include castles, standing stones, churches and buildings conserved from the industrial revolution.

Controversy around Henry Dundas' links to the slave trade led to a new plaque installed at the Melville Monument in EdinburghControversy around Henry Dundas' links to the slave trade led to a new plaque installed at the Melville Monument in Edinburgh
Controversy around Henry Dundas' links to the slave trade led to a new plaque installed at the Melville Monument in Edinburgh

This includes Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Glasgow Cathedral.

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However, despite receiving almost £50,000 from HES for the project, the university declined to comment on who would lead the project or how it planned on mapping the links to the British Empire.

The contract notice, which states the project will cost between £48,330 and £54,767, states a “desk-based survey” of the properties will be undertaken by staff at the university.

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It will include examining links to the transatlantic slave economy and other colonial activities.

The notice states: “The aim of this project is to investigate and understand the imperial connections of the 336 Properties in Care (PICs), by situating the historical landowners within the activities of the British Empire, including the transatlantic slave economy and other colonial activities.

"This project will take the form of an 18-month external commission, during which a desk-based survey of the PICs will be undertaken, with the aim of creating family history timelines revealing imperial connections of the owners of the properties prior to their coming into care.”

HES adds it “requires a detailed report that reveals the legacies of the British Empire” across its estate.

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In documents posted to the Public Contracts Scotland site, the quango adds the purpose of the project is to help the organisation work towards making “our heritage information more diverse and inclusive” while uncovering “new and hidden histories” connected to the properties.

This will include a list of the known owners of the properties from 1600 until they were taken into care by HES, with the list “used to understand the links between these owners and any imperial legacies, using existing databases including, but not limited to British Legacies of Slave Ownership,, and Runaway Slaves”.

Objects of commemoration across HES’s portfolio will also be listed alongside their “connections to events and individuals of imperial significance”.

It will also “highlight connections outwith these categories, such as relevant historical figures associated with a PIC, links with the collections of a PIC and functional connections where the purpose of a site has clear links to empire”.

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When the project was announced, HES said: “As Scotland’s lead heritage body, we have a responsibility to shine a light on the different parts of our history, and ensure that how we tell the story of our past reflects the difficult as well as the celebratory.

"This is an important part of recognising that there are many histories which have formed the Scotland of today.

“This project aims to explore and better understand the connections that some of the properties in our care have to areas including the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism.”

Glasgow University declined to comment.

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