Aberdeen in Africa, Africa in Aberdeen

Funding secured for new community co-curation project exploring Aberdeen’s historic connections with empire in sub-Saharan Africa

The University of Aberdeen and The Scottish Civic Trust have been successful in receiving funding from the British Academy’s new SHAPE Involve and Engage Awards for their project Aberdeen in Africa, Africa in Aberdeen: Community Co-Curation in Decolonising Collections, Campus, and Community. This project brings together academics, curators, archivists, teachers, students, heritage professionals, and community groups into a transformative public history project in North East Scotland. 

In October 2021, the University of Aberdeen became the first museum in Europe to repatriate a Benin bronze looted in Britain’s 1897 invasion of the kingdom of Benin. The restitution resulted in a high degree of international press coverage and placed greater attention on the origins of the University of Aberdeen’s African museum collections. Aberdeen in Africa, Africa in Aberdeen takes the repatriation of the Benin Bronze as a starting point for an innovative public history project with schools, community groups and local history groups to explore the historic connections between Aberdeen and sub-Saharan Africa.

The Project’s objectives include greater public awareness of Aberdeen’s historic connections with empire in Africa; increased visibility for African collections in the University’s museum stores; working collaboratively with teachers in Aberdeenshire to develop methods for teaching African histories; and furthering the unique potential of the University’s Museum sources in teaching and public engagement. These ambitious aims will be achieved through a series of new collaborations with community and heritage organisations which will generate a range of outputs including walking tours, podcasts and a pop-up exhibition. 

The Scottish Civic Trust will support the project through its Diverse Heritage programme, which encourages all members of Scotland’s communities, especially people from marginalised groups, to take an active role in local cultural heritage. Since the programme’s inception in 2018, it has engaged over 1,400 people in co-designed heritage activities that celebrate minority ethnic, LGBTQ+ and disabled communities, as well as refugees and people seeking asylum.

Neil Curtis, Head of Museums & Special Collections at the University of Aberdeen, said: 

“I am very pleased that this project will build links between local communities and the African collections in the care of the university, bringing to light fresh stories about the collection and increasing awareness of the University’s historic connections with Africa.”

Joe Traynor, Director of The Scottish Civic Trust, said:

“I am delighted that The Scottish Civic Trust is working in partnership with the University of Aberdeen to engage Aberdonians in co-curating a pop-up exhibition on the region’s ties to sub-Saharan Africa. Our Diverse Heritage programme leads Scotland’s civic heritage sector in tackling exclusion and ensuring that the stories we tell about our pasts are transparent, equitable and inclusive.”

Download the full media release.