Although the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed to a trickle the opportunities for in-person conferences, symposia, and meetings and stopped most international in-person gatherings since March 2020, Universities Studying Slavery (USS) has managed to pivot to remote meetings and virtual conferences. We remain deeply impressed with how quickly schools hosting USS meetings were able to create meaningful virtual experiences. All of that has meant, that despite the dearth of international travel opportunities and the difficulties with hosting those rich in-person gatherings where idea-sharing thrives, USS has continued to grow as new schools have begun to turn a critical eye toward their own institutional histories. That growth has included schools across the Atlantic from North America.
As evidence of that continuing growth, we here at USS headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia, get to share the news! The University of Aberdeen is proud to become the second university in Scotland to join the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, we are excited to have Aberdeen at the table!
The University of Aberdeen is the fifth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and third-oldest in Scotland. The modern university dates to 1860, with the merger of King’s College, founded in 1495 and Marischal College, founded in 1593. Aberdeen is unique among British cities for being the location of two ancient universities.
But the University of Aberdeen recognizes that with such a long history, University benefactors, alumni, and faculty of both institutions invested in and benefitted from participation in slavery across the British Empire. The institution is seeking to shine a light on this through a research project examining the legacy of historic slavery to the University within the context of the broader region, including the city of Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland. This study explores and contextualises the financial legacy of slavery to the University of Aberdeen.
The work is being led by Richard Anderson, who was appointed Lecturer in the History of Slavery in 2020. This institutional research has been overseen by a “History of Slavery Steering Committee” and has led to expanded public outreach and external engagement with regional stakeholders including Aberdeen City Council, National Trust for Scotland, and Scottish Civic Trust.
The University has undertaken research and public engagement activities on the histories of slavery and racial injustice, in Scotland and globally. In 2019, the University of Aberdeen participated in a community research project by the Birse Community Trust in Aberdeenshire, “‘Aye, it wis aabody’: exploring Scotland’s Caribbean slave trade history.” The University Museums and Special Collections are currently undertaking the project “Open to All: Digital engagement with the University of Aberdeen museum collections” while hosting the virtual exhibition “A North East Story: Scotland, Africa, and Slavery in the Caribbean.”
The foundation purpose of the University of Aberdeen is to be “open to all and dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the service of others.” The school looks forward to working with and learning from members of the USS who share a commitment to truth-telling projects in institutional histories.