The Matter of Slavery

Cross-institutional collaborations can be very fruitful. The first workshop of “The Matter of Slavery in Scotland”–a collaboration between Professor Nuala Zahedieh of the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Sarah Laurenson of the National Museums of Scotland–was was held on Friday 7 December, 2018. The workshop covered furniture, buildings, paintings, drawings and installations. It explored the use of exotic woods from the Caribbean and Americas in furniture making, the issue of the Melville Monument, a fascinating account of Sir William Allan’s painting of the slave market in Constantinople, a rich contextual discussion of the Glassford portrait, as well as the illustrations in Dr Jonathan Troup’s diary. In a full and remarkable day, it was interesting to hear about the new approaches to slavery to be taken by the National Trust for Scotland, as well as Graham Fagen’s account of his development of the performance of “The Slaves’s Lament”. The fascinating day was concluded by a quite brilliant lecture by Jennifer Anderson, of Stony Brook, on mahogany and slavery.

Your blogger has always been aware of the significance of material objects for this story, though like most historians, he has tended to focus on archival material understood in a narrower sense. Thus he participated a few years ago in the fascinating events organised by Glasgow Museums in 2014 that addressed the issue of slavery through objects, while on 3 March 2004 he gave a gallery talk at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in connection with their exhibition, Below Stairs, focusing on black servants perhaps held as enslaved. It was entitled “The Illustration of Race, Slavery and Black Servitude in 18th-Century Paintings”, and came about through the assistance he had already been given by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery  in getting illustrative material for his 6 December 2000 lecture, “The Scottish Law of Slavery”.

But this new project greatly extends the scope of discussion in a way both fruitful and stimulating. I certainly found my horizons expanded, and my thinking encouraged in new directions. All readers of this blog, interested in slavery, should consult the website of the project: https://www.nms.ac.uk/collections-research/our-research/current-research/the-matter-of-slavery/

Image courtesy of The Matter of Slavery Project

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