A new exhibition exploring the North-East’s links to the slave trade will open at the University of Aberdeen.

It forms part of the University’s commitment to improve understanding of both the institution’s own colonial legacy and the wider region’s connections to the enslavement of people. The exhibition draws on a two-year research project which has investigated the legacies of slavery at the University and the broader region. This exhibition is a step in recognising the role of Aberdeen and North-East Scotland in this history, and how its legacy continues today.

No slaving voyages left from Aberdeen but Aberdonian sailors and captains worked on slave ships departing from other ports, while others worked in the West African trading forts of the Royal African Company where enslaved people were sold. Goods produced by enslaved people arrived in Aberdeen’s port and were traded in the city, including sugar, rum, cotton, and tobacco. Aberdeen was also the starting point for many Scots who left for the Caribbean to make money from slavery.

The Legacies of Slavery exhibition displays original documents that record the brutal conditions people endured, but also how enslaved people resisted slavery. The exhibition also explores how individuals from North-East Scotland grew wealthy from slavery, and how these profits benefitted North-East institutions including the colleges of King’s and Marischal (now the University of Aberdeen).

The exhibition challenges visitors to reflect on the legacies of slavery and give their opinion about what the University and the region should do next, as the next steps should be informed by the views of local communities to address the continuing legacy of slavery.

Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special Collections at the University of Aberdeen, said: “Wealth from Atlantic slavery flowed from the British Caribbean to North-East Scotland, into the hands of individuals, businesses, stately homes and the University. It is important that we accurately tell that story, and the Legacies of Slavery exhibition is part of that process.

“Slavery is part of the fabric of the city, as can be seen in some of Aberdeen’s street names: Jamaica Street, Virginia Street, and Sugarhouse Lane.

“Many people from the North-East went to the Caribbean as doctors, naval officers, plantation owners, and overseers, and King’s College and Marischal College profited from donations from them.

“The exhibition is an important step towards a truthful telling of this story and so an understanding of both how this shaped our past and the continuing legacy it has today.”

The exhibition Legacies of Slavery: Transatlantic Slavery and Aberdeen will run from 27 March to 2 December in the Gallery of the Sir Duncan Rice Library. It is free and open Monday-Saturday 11am-7pm in term-time, 11am – 5pm in University holidays. For further details visit https://www.abdn.ac.uk/collections/visit-us

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