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18 May 2017

Exploring Culzean Castle: Before the journey

Culzean castle
Introductions to a summertime blog chronicling an NTS intern’s research on Culzean Castle’s connections to the British empire and the Atlantic slave trade.

Hello! And welcome to a series of posts chronicling my journey as an intern for the National Trust for Scotland. My name is Hannah Lawrence and I am currently a PhD student at the University of St Andrews. As a brief introduction, I originally hail from the balmy coasts of North Carolina, USA and I jumped across the pond to study history in England and now Scotland. It has been every bit as exhilarating as a younger, rosier-cheeked me (as we all are before undertaking a PhD) hoped it might be. Happily, I haven’t been able to shake the childlike giddiness that overcomes me when I spot Edinburgh Castle looming over the city out of the corner of my eye as I stroll down Princes Street. It sits, as it has for centuries in some form or another, majestically atop its rocky throne. It is the power of Scotland’s built environment that continues to intrigue me and renew my love for history every time I step outside my door.

But my passion for history was ignited much earlier. And it was rooted in something far darker: the Atlantic slave trade. As a young girl, the truth of the American plantation was relayed to me in hushed tones. The enslavement of African people was glossed over by my school teachers and it was a footnote (if mentioned at all) in plantation house museums that I visited. My understanding of the institution of slavery on American soil, and how that affected the country that I knew and loved, was distorted. But it was this constant, pestering sense of uncomfortable confusion at a very young age that set me on my path to understanding the truth of my nation’s past – which led me to the study of history.

Fast forward many years and I arrive in Britain, ready to start a new historical quest. And here I felt a familiar feeling of uncomfortable confusion – that there is more to explore regarding Britain’s past relations to its former empire, and particularly its involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. Since the 2007 Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, many custodians of Britain’s built environment have pledged to continue exploring, researching, and communicating the history of the Atlantic slave trade and Britain’s empire. And this is how my internship and this blog was born. The National Trust for Scotland and I teamed up and are working to uncover more information about the connections of one of Scotland’s most stunning built properties, Culzean Castle, to the British empire and Atlantic slave trade. First we will explore the life of one of Culzean’s most interesting residents: former slave Scipio Kennedy. How did a young West African boy of 8 end up living on the coast of west Scotland? My blog next week will begin to unravel Scipio’s story.