Looking Back to Move Forward: The British periphery, slavery and the Highlands, 1750-1833

Submitting Institution

Glasgow Caledonian University

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Research by Dr S. Karly Kehoe at the Scottish Catholic Archives and the Highland Archive Centre (HAC) led to the discovery of source materials relating to connections between Scottish Highlanders and plantation slavery. Extensive archival work supported an exhibition at the HAC and a resource pack which currently supports teachers delivering the 'Atlantic Slave Trade' topic in the National 4/5 Curriculum for Excellence (History). The pack supports the 'Mandatory Content & Illustrative Areas' section and covers the 4 core areas for study: the Triangular Trade; Britain and the Caribbean; the Captive's Experience and Slave Resistance; the Abolitionist Campaigns.

Underpinning research

Research on the role played by Highland Scots in the system of plantation slavery has been limited by a lack of known sources and because the slave trade was carried on predominantly from English ports prior to the parliamentary union. Dr Kehoe (Senior Lecturer in History) is a specialist in the history of peripheries, citizenship and ethnic identities in the British world. Her focus on two groups in particular (Irish Catholics and Scottish Highlanders) has led her to examine the process of regional and community development. Her research on the career of Royal Navy surgeon, Richard Carr McClement, shed light on the links between Irish Catholics and the later slave trade (Kehoe, 2013a). McClement, whose diary formed part of the collections of Fort Augustus Abbey in Inverness-Shire, had been posted to the West Africa Station where he supported Britain's efforts to end the continuing trade by documenting the suffering of slaves on ships captured from Portuguese and American traders. The diary's discovery in the Scottish Catholic Archives (the Fort Augustus papers were moved there after the facility's closure) led to extended archival work by Kehoe in the Highland Archive Centre and other local and national repositories. A range of little-known primary source materials allowed global connections to be established between Irish Catholics, Scottish Highlanders and plantation slavery - in particular, the extent to which Highlanders used money from the West Indies to establish philanthropic enterprises such as schools (the academies at Inverness, Fortrose and Tain) and hospitals (the Royal Northern Infirmary) and to assist in the preservation of the Gaelic language (the creation of a Gaelic dictionary).

Research and public engagement was supported by a variety of income streams from the Wellcome Trust, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Edinburgh Beltane Beacon and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. Kehoe was most recently awarded a grant by the Royal Society of Edinburgh for the project '"Our Worthy Countrymen"?: Highland Development and the West Indies, 1750-1850' (Feb 2013 to Feb 2014) to fund further research on the relationship between plantation slavery in the Caribbean and the socioeconomic development of the Highlands. Kehoe's work on religious and ethnic peripheries (Irish, Scottish and Highland Catholics) also has a well-developed transatlantic context. She currently holds an honorary Research Associate position with the Gorsebrook Research Institute for Atlantic Canada Studies, based at St Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia). The materials collected over the course of the research were used as the basis of an 86-page resource pack on the Atlantic slave trade for use in schools across in the Highland region.

NB. The project began in Spring 2011 but Kehoe moved to GCU on 4.12.11. Some planning for the impact necessarily occurred whilst Kehoe was at the University of the Highlands and Islands. GCU is claiming credit only for research outputs and impact accruing since she commenced her contract with us.

References to the research

Kehoe, K., [Exhibition] 'Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands', Highland Archive Centre, Inverness. 7 Dec 2011 to 7 Feb 2012.

Kehoe, K., [Research grant] 'Ireland and Empire: Seafaring, Slavery and Salvation in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World'. Awardee: Dr S. Karly Kehoe (co-applicant with Professor Michael E. Vance, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada). 1 Feb 2012 to 31 Jan 2013 ($15,274 Canadian dollars).

Kehoe, K., [Public Engagement Award] 'Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands'. Awardee: Dr S. Karly Kehoe (Edinburgh Beltane Beacon Prize for Public Engagement. March 2012. Award for best project). (£2,000).

Kehoe, K., [Research grant] 'Our Worthy Countrymen'?: Highland Development and the West Indies, 1750-1850'. Awardee: Dr S. Karly Kehoe (Royal Society of Edinburgh). 1 Feb 2013 to 1 Feb 2014 (£3,135.00).

Kehoe, K., [Article] 'Accessing Empire: Irish Surgeons and the Royal Navy, 1850-1880', Social History of Medicine, 26:2 (2013): 204-224. DOI: 10.3366/brw.2011.00058567.


Kehoe, K., [Article] "Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands": A public engagement case study', Scottish Local History, 87 (Dec 2013).

Details of the impact

Archival sources unearthed during research on the history of religious and ethnic peripheries, the Atlantic economy and the slave trade were employed in an exhibition - 'Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands' - at the Highland Archives Centre (HAC), Inverness, between 7.12.11 and 7.2.12. The exhibition was viewed by more than 400 people over twelve weeks (confirmed by the Education and Outreach Coordinator at HAC). Professional historians, archivists and community researchers worked with S6 pupils from Inverness Royal Academy to build the exhibition and chart the connections between the Atlantic slave trade and the Highlands and Islands. The exhibition team included the Education and Outreach Coordinator at HAC, the Head of History at Inverness Royal Academy, a lecturer from the University of the Highlands and Islands, a Highland councillor and researcher on Highland links with slavery. At the launch of the exhibition, the Academy pupils spoke about what the project meant to them and what they felt about working with the project team. Representatives from the Africa Scotland Centre also attended and stressed the importance of such projects in promoting contacts between communities and in providing an opportunity for young Caribbean and African people in Scotland to gain access to aspects of their history. In examining the links between plantation slavery and the Highlands, young people were able to get a sense of how many people in Britain's peripheries were central actors in a system of wide-ranging economic change. The exhibition demonstrated how local archival resources can be used to show Highland pupils how the empire shaped the socio-economic development of their region in a globalising world.
The exhibition subsequently won Kehoe the Edinburgh Beltane Beacon Award for Public Engagement Challenge Award (for best project) in March 2012 and the £2,000 prize money was spent on creating the 86-page school resource pack, The Atlantic Slave Trade, 1770-1807 (2012-13). Kehoe collected and digitised a range of primary materials relevant to the links between Highlanders and slavery from a range of archives across Scotland as well as from the National Archives in London. The selected sources were supported by written commentaries by Kehoe who worked with the Education and Outreach Coordinator of HAC, teachers from Inverness Royal Academy, and four undergraduate students from GCU's Nineteenth-Century Scotland module. The
resource pack is currently in use by secondary school teachers in the delivery of the Atlantic Slave Trade topic in the National 4/5 Curriculum for Excellence (History) in 29 Highland Schools (in both electronic and paper format). The pack contains commentaries and lengthy extracts from primary sources derived from figures such as George Inglis of Inverness, who had extensive plantation and slave interests in Demerara, James Andrew Anderson, the Greenock banker, and the anti-slave trade surgeon, Richard Carr McClement.
Kehoe subsequently delivered a workshop (13 Jun 2013) at Inverness Royal Academy on the subject 'Democracy and Citizenship' in which she summarised her research on British peripheries and used the 'Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands' project as a case study. She also gave an interview as part of Radio Scotland's A Scot's History of Britishness (Jul 2013) in which she discussed the connections between the Irish and Scots Catholics and Britishness and the relationship between slavery and Highland development (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01cvtqt).
The research and impacts were designed to link the Highland region to debates about the role of peripheries in globalisation. Its four main objectives were: (1) to bring current historical research into the mainstream with a public exhibition; (2) to showcase how school pupils can use local resources to create links between their communities and global economies; (3) to demonstrate how universities can mentor community and regional history projects relevant to discussions about sustainability; and (4) to produce a history resource for schools that would have an enduring impact in this emergent sub-field of academic research. The pupils engaging with the primary sources provided in the pack will continue indefinitely to gain a fuller understanding of the concept of globalisation and how it has influenced the long-term development of their region. Given the fact that youth unemployment is discouragingly high and confidence levels low, Kehoe's rationale is that it is essential for academics to reach out to local communities in this way and to use research as a way of working with youth to inspire new thinking about their place in a rapidly-changing global economy. In her recent article, 'Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands: A public engagement case study', Scottish Local History, 87 (2013), Kehoe reflected on the project, stressing the fundamental importance of public engagement.

Dates when impact occurred
Dec 2011 to June 2013

Sources to corroborate the impact

Exhibition Poster from 'Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands', Highland Archive Centre, Inverness (7 Dec 2011).

Kehoe, K., [Education Resource Pack], The Atlantic Slave Trade, 1770-1807. National 4/5 with materials relevant for Higher Education: mandatory content and illustrative areas (2013).

Letter relating to the project and exhibition 'Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands' from the Education and Outreach Coordinator, Highland Archive Service (Aug 2013).

GCU report (17 May 2012): 'Classroom resources sent to schools in Highlands and Islands' http://www.gcu.ac.uk/newsevents/news/article.php?id=43327

Letter relating to schools Resource Pack from the Social Studies Development Officer of the Highland Council (June 2013).

A Scot's History of Britishness (Jul 2013), BBC Radio Scotland (in which Kehoe discusses the connections between the Irish and Scots Catholics and Britishness and the relationship between slavery and Highland development) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01cvtqt.

Report on school pupils' interdisciplinary work on the slave trade (The Highland Council, 28 Sep 2012) presented by the Social Studies Development Officer of the Highland Council. http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourcouncil/news/newsreleases/2012/September/2012-09-28-03.htm

Conference programme for 'Ireland and Empire: Seafaring, Slavery and Salvation in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World' (7-9 Jun 2012). http://acstatsmu.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/ireland-and-empire-seafaring-slavery.html . This conference was attended by approximately 47 people and the public lecture delivered at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on 8 June 2012 attracted approximately 65 people.

BBC article about the Looking Back to Move Forward project: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-16030622 (5.12.11)