Take 5

Uncover colonialism and the legacies of slavery

Decolonising is an important topic for museums and for schools. Many teachers are following guidance in the report ‘Promoting and Developing Race Equality and Anti-Racist Education’ published by Education Scotland which focuses on ensuring young people can grow up in an inclusive and supportive Scotland. As part of this, there is a clear awareness of the need to interrogate the past.

Museum of the Highlands has lots of activities and objects aimed at supporting this.

1) The Highlanders’ Museum in Fort George holds the largest military collection outside Edinburgh, including many of the objects represented in the section ‘Colonialism and Conflict‘ on the website.

One object that helps to understand the widely differing viewpoints involved in colonial conflict is a bugle that was used to sound the Advance for the Highland Brigade to charge at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir. This object represents different things for different peoples.
Bugle used to sound the ‘advance’ at Tel-El-Kebir | Museum of the Highlands

2) How did the impact of the British Empire find its way into all walks of life? A great way to approach this topic is to explore a children’s game from the Highland Museum of Childhood. The ‘Ups and Downs in India’ boardgame was designed to introduce the children of British employees in India to the country.
Ups and Downs in India Board Game | Museum of the Highlands

3) Discuss how objects looted from across the world have found their way into British museum collections. Start with a panel removed from the tomb of Mahdi, part of the collection at the Highlanders Museum.
Panel Removed from the Tomb of the Mahdi by The 79th | Museum of the Highlands

One battle that has become highly controversial due to the large-scale looting that took place is Maqdala. You can explore the history and reception of this battle in our interactive story about ‘An Abyssinian Soldier’, by exploring his shield, taken after the battle.
An Abyssinian Soldier | Museum of the Highlands

Then reflect on the impact of looting on the looted communities themselves in our ‘On Reflection’ activity.
Looted Communities | Museum of the Highlands

4) The guidance published by Education Scotland is very clear: “To understand the full complexity of decolonising, it is important to remember that racism is rooted in colonialism when Western countries justified the enslavement of people.” Acknowledging the legacies of slavery is an important part of Museum of the Highlands.

You can take a deep dive into the life of slave owner James Fowler, using objects from Groam House Museum in an interactive story. What motivated him and how was he viewed in his lifetime?
James Fowler | Museum of the Highlands

Then, discover the story of a well-known Highland surname. Why is a Harlem Renaissance poet from Jamaica called McKay? Explore the family tartan at Strathnaver Museum to find out more about one of the more unusual the legacies of slavery.
Claude McKay | Museum of the Highlands

5) Finally, hold a debate with your class, using The Big Question – should we apologise for the British Empire?
Should we apologise for the British Empire? | Museum of the Highlands

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