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The Friends of Hugh Miller

Miller and Race

Miller's position in Victorian debates about race and slavery has been controversial in recent years. By sharing this research here, our aim is to encourage readers to make up their own minds on Miller’s place within this complex debate.

An initial article by Martin Gostwick in Hugh’s News issue 46 (November 2020) brought the issue to public attention. Following this, the Friends of Hugh Miller charity commissioned and supported extensive research into the allegations of racism in Miller’s writings. Professor Ralph O’Connor of the University of Aberdeen has since conducted a thorough investigation into the issues raised, which resulted in a two-part paper published in Hugh’s News issues 48 and 50.

Prof. O’Connor presents compelling evidence that Hugh Miller was firmly anti-racist in his views. There is currently no evidence to suggest that Miller benefited in any way from slavery during his lifetime, nor would he have wished to do so. Prof. O’Connor’s examination of the historical period around which Miller was writing makes for fascinating reading, and we would urge all with an interest in the matter to read his research. 

We should like to acknowledge that Martin had accepted there were certain errors in his original article, and he had planned to make changes to his piece – with his death, sadly, we will never know what he would have made of Prof O’Connor’s conclusions. We are certain that he would have welcomed these investigations with his usual warmth, interest, and enthusiasm. Certainly, there is much here that will be of great interest not just to Friends members, but to the wider public as well. This is a matter of great importance, and we welcome the intelligent debate that has been sparked by examining Miller’s writings and his views on race in great detail.

The Friends committee, and associates including Prof. O’Connor, will continue to engage with the National Trust for Scotland and others in ensuring that all aspects of Miller's legacy are told in an open and honest manner.