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Sir Geoff Palmer, OBE, To Chair Empire, Slavery & Scotland’s Museums Steering Group

Today Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) welcomes Sir Geoff Palmer, OBE, as chair of a new independent steering group that will recommend how Scotland’s existing and future museum collections can better recognise and represent a more accurate portrayal of Scotland’s colonial and slavery history.

The steering group is sponsored by the Scottish Government and coordinated by MGS, as part of Empire, Slavery & Scotland’s Museums: Addressing Our Colonial Legacy, a project to explore how the history of Scotland’s involvement in the British Empire, colonialism, and transatlantic slavery, can be told by Scotland’s museums.

Sir Geoff Palmer is a renowned scientist, human rights activist, Professor Emeritus in the School of Life Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, and the first black professor in Scotland. He regularly writes and speaks about Scotland’s role in slavery and colonialism and he brings to the steering group a wealth of knowledge and experience as an anti-racism campaigner.

The independently chaired steering group is diverse in its membership and is representative of relevant expertise and community interests spanning museums, equalities and rights, and education. Seven steering group members have been confirmed to date, with further names to be confirmed this month. These are Silence Chihuri (Fair Justice System for Scotland Group), Foysol Choudhury (Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equalities Council), Abeer Eladany (University of Aberdeen), Jatin Haria (Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights), Lewis Hou (Science Ceilidh and the Anti-Racist Educator Collective), Steph Scholten (ICOM Ethics Committee and MGS Board member) and Zandra Yeaman (The Hunterian, University of Glasgow).

The steering group will be supported by a range of invited advisors, specialists in relevant related fields, who will lead working groups on specific areas of enquiry.

Sir Geoff Palmer said:

“It is a great honour to serve as the chair of this new independent steering group. Scotland was involved in slavery and colonialism. The history of this involvement is distributed in our museums in a manner which does not allow an accurate portrayal of this history. The outcome of the activities of our steering group will be to enable museums to use their collections to give an accurate account of Scotland’s involvement in slavery and colonialism. This new educational resource will improve race and community relations within our diverse society”.

Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie said:

“Those who came to Scotland through the slave trade and empire, and their descendants, have made an indelible contribution to our country that should be recognised.

“That’s why, in our 2020-21 Programme for Government, we committed to sponsoring an independent expert group to recommend how Scotland’s existing and future museum collections can better recognise and represent a more accurate portrayal of Scotland’s colonial and slavery history.

“Sir Geoff Palmer and the members of this diverse group will provide relevant expertise and insight and I look forward to hearing their recommendations on how we can deliver the most effective and inclusive approach.”

Lucy Casot, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland, said:

“We are delighted that Sir Geoff Palmer will chair the steering group for Empire, Slavery, & Scotland’s Museums. We welcome the insight and ambition that he brings to the group, where he will be joined by experts from across sectors and communities of interest.

“Scotland’s museum sector is increasingly vocal in their commitment to use their collections to acknowledge and confront Scotland’s role in slavery and colonialism, and the social, economic, and cultural impacts of it. We look forward to the recommendations from the steering group, which will deepen our learning so we can further support museums to challenge and critically interrogate their own practices and collections.”

MGS will coordinate a national consultation, in collaboration with Glasgow Life, to establish public and expert perspectives on how museums can contribute to representing and reflecting our slavery and colonialism history. A related exercise to identify the work already in progress in this area is now underway.

As a result of this project, and based on the evidence gathered, the steering group will make a set of recommendations to the Scottish Government in 2021 on how museum collections and spaces be used to explore slavery and colonialism.

MGS is currently recruiting a Project Manager to lead on the effective delivery of Empire, Slavery & Scotland’s Museums: Addressing Our Colonial Legacy. Information on the role can be found at