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Centre of African Studies: News


Call for Papers

'Africa in Scotland, Scotland in Africa' Annual International Conference, April 29 - May 1 2009

The trans-cultural encounter and exchange between Africa and Europe long predates the era of slavery and colonialism. Historical links between Scotland and Africa may be traceable to several centuries earlier. While the history of the 'Black Kings of Scotland' (such as Kenneth III (997-1005), also known as 'Kenneth the Niger' or 'King Kenneth Dubh, a surname which means 'the black man') remains controversial, it parallels African roots within Scottish-Celtic history linked to the migration of 'seafaring North African warriors via Iberia into Europe, [who] joined in many cultures and held power and position'. Ironically, Giles Foden's movie 'The Last King of Scotland' based on factual events of the Amin dictatorship epitomises another historical, colonial connection between Scotland (Britain) and Uganda (Africa). A similar binary is shown in European perceptions of Africa from 'a continent of almost limitless possibilities', 'a dark continent with untapped, monumental resources' in the 18th and 19th centuries to one where poverty, misery, crisis, wars, genocide, HIV/AIDS pandemic looms very large in the 20th and 21st centuries. Africa's increasing depiction as a 'poor continent' invokes a historical contradiction, in terms of its natural wealth and resources, richness of its peoples and diverse cultures, a 'wealthy' continent that was decimated by the dehumanising trafficking in slaves but now increasingly so with the scourge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic; a continent that has being largely impoverished by the consequences of imperialism, colonialism and decolonisation processes, by its place in both the European and Cold Wars, but also now in its problematic place within ongoing globalization processes. This complex ambivalence that characterizes the relationship between Africa and Scotland in particular, and Europe in general, underscores the fact that Scotland and Britain have been and will remain an integral part of Africa's problems and solutions for the foreseeable future.

The legacy of the slave trade in Scotland, given impetus by the 1707 Act of Union, is evidenced by significant landmarks in Scottish history and contemporary society. Ironically, While the transatlantic slave trade benefited Scotland economically and contributed to the abiding legacy of poverty and inequality in African and Caribbean countries, Scotland also played a leading role in championing the 1807 UK Parliament Bill that abolished the slave trade (if not slavery) in the British Empire.

Decades-long agitation for overseas colonies as settlement areas, sources of raw materials, and markets for manufactured goods preceded the colonial politics of the 1880s and subsequent bisecting of Africa into artificial geographical zones of European influence, exploitation, and expropriation. The Royal Scottish Geographical Society, founded in the four centres of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen in 1884-5, initially emphasized the intellectual and economic relationships between Scotland and Africa and later promoted wider imperial connections. Missionary societies and missionaries helped to stress the imperial field as a means to the expression of a distinctively Scots Presbyterian duty, as exemplified by Mary Slessor's missionary activities in Calabar, Nigeria, earning her the status as one of the principal heroines of missionary endeavour in Africa.

More broadly, Scots have emigrated in large numbers in both forced and semi-voluntary migrations of the late 18th and 19th centuries to several parts of the world, resulting in the formation of Scottish diasporas and transplantation of Scottish cultures. Much more recently, Scotland is increasingly becoming a new 'haven', 'home' to immigrants from and outside the new European Union. These emigratory and immigratory trends out of and into Scotland remain very dynamic processes, whose impact needs to be contextually understood in different local settings in Africa, the African diaspora and Scotland.

The socio-historical connection between Scotland and Africa is further illuminated by the many who have shaped the history of African nationalism, education, health, and art in respective contexts of Africa, Britain, the Caribbean and the USA. From James Africanus Horton, the first African graduate of the University of Edinburgh (1859), a surgeon, scientist, soldier and a political thinker who worked toward African independence a century before it occurred; to James McCune Smith, the first African-American to earn a medical degree, at the University of Glasgow in 1837 (indeed, the first black American physician to receive university training anywhere in the world); to the Dominican-born Samuel Jules Edwards who lectured in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen and helped found the 'Society for the Recognition of the Brotherhood of Man' in 1893; to one of the foremost African-American landscape painters, Robert Scott Duncanson, who studied at the art academy in Glasgow in 1840; to Elijah McCoy who pursued a Mechanical Engineering apprenticeship in Edinburgh in 1858 and became famous for his invention of a device for machine lubrication systems; to Andrew Watson who studied at Glasgow University and became a successful footballer in the 1870s; and to the Nigerian-born Richard Akiwande Savage who studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and led the Afro-West Indian Literary Society of Edinburgh University in 1900, to name but a few.

The Scots were uniquely central to the British imperial experience, an enterprise that also contributed to the development of Scottish nationalism and their sense of self. This tendency is still resilient in the 20th and 21st century with the Scottish sense of duty, rapprochement and a sometimes-paternalistic posture towards erstwhile colonies. While the Empire's role in and impact on Scottish history may remain contested, the Act of Union provided a window of opportunity for Scotland to assume a 'big player' in the nascent British Empire. Following the 'Scottish Enlightenment' and Industrial Revolution, Scotland became a commercial, intellectual and industrial powerhouse of Europe. Paradoxically, while Scotland helped forge the Empire, Scots were nevertheless engaged in negotiating their identity in relation to Empire, thus evoking a sense of victimhood that Scotland shares with Africa.

Devolution has the tendency of being inward-looking, referring to Scotland's renewal and rejuvenation of her economy, social and cultural life; but it can also be outward-looking in terms of 'expanding horizons and increasing impact'. How does a devolved Scotland support global players in tackling poverty and disease, in Africa and elsewhere' What implication has Scotland's International Development Strategy for meeting the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in its responsibility to support Africa on the path towards achieving sustainable development, capacity building and systems of good governance with greater transparency and accountability' To what extent have global events such as the J8 Summit in Edinburgh, the G8 Summit in Gleneagles and the World Youth Congress in Stirling nurtured mutual social, economic, political, cultural and strategic benefits for both Scotland and African countries'

This conference aims to provide a scholarly, interdisciplinary forum for investigating and analysing the historical and contemporary relationships, links and networks between Scotland, African and the African diaspora; and to exploring ways of strengthening existing ties between Scotland and Africa, and creating new channels of understanding and cooperation. By undertaking a critical historical excursion, we can contrast this connexion via historical, political, colonial-postcolonial, economic, religious, diplomatic, strategic and cultural trajectories. Such a multidisciplinary reflection will enable us to explore the mutual implications for past, present and future relationships.

All prospective panelists/speakers are invited to submit Paper Title/Abstract not exceeding 200 words (including references) by Email to the Centre of African Studies at: on or before 30 November 2008. Successful applicants will be notified by 15 December 2008.

Applicants from African Universities are eligible to apply for full/partial bursary, although priority will be given to conference paper presenters subject to availability of funds. A detailed version of the Conference Theme Statement and information regarding conference fees and how to apply for funding will be available on CAS website ( For further general enquiries about the conference, application and related issues, please contact the conference organisers or the Centre of African Studies in Edinburgh:

Dr. Afe Adogame (Convener):
[+44 131 650 8928]

Dr. Andrew Lawrence (Co-convener):
[+44 131 650 8427]