Research in a Nutshell: Slavery in Eighteenth-Century Scotland

John Cairns: Slavery in Eighteenth-Century Scotland

John Cairns is Professor of Civil Law at Edinburgh Law School and Director of the Centre for Legal History.

Professor Cairns has devoted himself to the study of the legal literature of Scotland and England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and to a long term research project on the relationship between legal thought and legal education in the Scottish Enlightenment. He is currently researching law and slavery in eighteenth-century.

He welcomes inquiries about postgraduate research in Scottish legal history, European legal history, eighteenth-century legal studies, and slavery and law.

In this video John describes how eighteenth-century Scots came to be owners and traders of slaves. Enslaved Africans and Indians came to Scotland to work as domestic servants and labourers. There can have been few Scots in the eighteenth century who did not encounter African or Indian people in their lives; likewise there can have been few Scots who did not benefit, if sometimes very indirectly, from the slave trade and slave-ownership. While to some extent courts and lawyers in Scotland did recognize slavery during the course of the century, eventually a series of test cases led to a decision in the case of Knight v Wedderburn in 1778 that no one could be held as a slave in Scotland.

Related links

Centre for Legal History Homepage

Edinburgh Legal History Blog

Related postgraduate study at Edinburgh Law School

LLM by Research in History and Philosophy of Law