Guest lectures - archive

The University of Glasgow hosts a number of prestigious guest lectures from world-renowned experts.

Holocaust Memorial Lecture 2014

Holocaust memorial lecture 2014

Professor Ahmed Zewail - 3rd October 2011

Award of honorary degree to Professor Ahmed Zewail, Linus Chair of Chemistry and Physics at the California Institute of Technology. Followed by a public lecture entitled 'Revolutions in Science and Society'. Filmed on the 3rd october 2011 at the University of Glasgow.

video [mp4]

Dr Harry Burns - Kilbrandon Lecture 7th November 2011

This lecture covered issues of neglect, which may stem from substance misuse, or the mental health needs of parents impacting on their ability to provide appropriate care for their children. 

Dr Burns also want to highlighted, from a health perspective, those areas where improvements may be made: more effective  inter- professional working, greater awareness of the impact of poor child health in later adult life, the importance of stronger communities and the need to work collaboratively with parents and children to achieve the best outcomes.

Kilbrandon lecture

David Livingstone Memorial Lecture 2013

Lord Jack McConnell

University of Glasgow, 28 February 2013

Livingstone’s legacy – lessons for today

I had the opportunity yesterday to visit the grave of Dr David Livingstone in Westminster Abbey. It was a powerful moment for reflection.

Here he was buried on 24 April 1874, back from Africa where his African colleagues had carried him to the coast to ensure he could be buried at home. Queen Victoria sent a message to the funeral, and across Britain he was mourned. But he left his heart, literally, in Zambia and he left Africa for the last time with a place in the heart of those who had known him.

That tombstone in the Abbey says of Dr Livingstone:

“For 30 years his life was spent in an unwearied effort
to evangelise the native races,
to explore the undiscovered secrets,
to abolish the desolating slave trade of Central Africa,”

The service and final resting place were fitting for a remarkable life, but after his death he achieved even greater recognition as those inspired directly by him took forward the vision he had left behind, and his example became more and more symbolic for those who put the shared humanity of the races above fear and greed.

Next month we celebrate the 200th Anniversary of his birth in Blantyre, Lanarkshire on 19 March 1813. So, in this bicentenary year,

what made this man,

what was his special contribution, and

what would he make of us and our world today?

Thanks are due to many people for this opportunity: to Professor John Briggs and everyone at the Glasgow Centre for International Development; to Vice-Chancellor Anton Muscatelli, a University Principal who understands the world and has the vision to keep this great University amongst the best; and to the team at the Wellcome Trust Centre who organised such an interesting Symposium on Monday on health and infectious diseases in Africa.

And thanks also to all those at the National Museum of Scotland, the National Trust in Blantyre, Scotland and at Westminster Abbey, who are working hard to make sure the 200th anniversary marks the occasion in memorable ways.

But most of all we give thanks to all those in Scotland and Malawi, in the churches and communities, in parliament and in schools who have kept alive his legacy – and who have tried to live up to the challenges he set for others.

Dr David Livingstone was a product of his own times, of the Scotland of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

He was way ahead of his time in his attitude to Africans and to Africa.

Like others, he wanted to spread the Christian word, but more than that he wanted to explore and discover new places, peoples and things, he wanted a commercially successful Africa, and he wanted an end to abuse and exploitation.

Many truly remarkable individuals have attended Glasgow University. The scientific discoveries, philosophical thought, and the teaching passed on to future generations have made an impact beyond anything that can have been imagined in 1451 by the founders.

But in all these years, and although his work was mainly in Africa and supported by the Royal Geographical Society and the London Missionary Society, surely David Livingstone stands out as a student who took the pioneering spirit of Glasgow and it’s Universities to extraordinary lengths, and embodied the humane instincts of this University in his work.

Here in the 18th Century, Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith and others changed the terms of debates about the world as it was then developing. Hutcheson taught in English not Latin, the first to do so, exploring and developing theories of moral philosophy. And Smith charted the way our economy could and would develop in the two centuries following, while maintaining a belief that commerce and trade would liberate people and reduce global disparities.

As this century of exploration of thought, the Scottish Enlightenment, came to an end, the University of Glasgow led the way with its petition in 1792, the first from Scotland to call for the abolition of slavery.

18th Century Scotland led the world in education for all, and we celebrate the memory of Robert Burns in part to remember that. As the 19th Century then progressed, Glasgow University pioneered support for students from poorer backgrounds.

And not far away, in New Lanark, Robert Owen and others were experimenting with new forms of social organisation. Education, childcare, and community engagement were to be the new normal – a more co-operative approach that would lead us into a new world where all would share the spoils of development.

And the vast continent of Africa was opening up south of the Sahara as geographers, missionaries, and entrepreneurs fought disease, hostility and the forces of nature to explore and exploit new territories further and further inland.


But this was a world where most believed the natives of Africa and elsewhere were savages who needed the fear of God to civilise them, and a world where capital exploited labour remorselessly here at home.

Livingstone himself worked 14-hour days in the mill from the age of 10, and workers at the mill stood all day, with no ventilation. He went to school in the evenings. Having worked from 6am to 8pm, he studied from 8pm to 10pm, and he read more until midnight.

He quotes many influences, but perhaps his teacher here, Reverend Ralph Wardlaw, who fought the slave trade with principle, influenced him more than most. Livingstone attended his anti-slavery meetings in the West George Street Chapel, and there he will almost certainly have encountered James McCune Smith.

McCune Smith was the son of freed slaves, but he had been rejected by Universities in America due to his ethnic background. So he came to Glasgow and got the education his talents deserved. He became the first African American to study medicine, and then subsequently the first to practice medicine on his return to the emerging United States. It seems more than likely that he and Livingstone will have spent time together.

Meanwhile down the road the city merchants were prospering on sugar and tobacco, exploiting slaves and the natural resources of others, and Livingstone could see the links. He was from a Highland family, which no doubt influenced his religion, his humanity, and his perseverance in the face of adversity, but it was first to London and then Africa he would turn.

Here he returned in 1858 to address the students of Glasgow University crowded into the Common Hall. His publication in 1857 of the book Missionary Travels had converted him from a pioneer known in the exalted circles to a household name, celebrated for his tales and travels.

In typical Livingstone style he described the young men in front of him as

"preparing to occupy the most important situations in this country, as the agents that will…insure the ultimate success to the great object that I have in view".

preparing to occupy the most important situations in this country, as the agents that will…insure the ultimate success to the great object that I have in view

He went on describe his mission - to inspire a new economy of successful agricultural production in central and southern Africa that would render the slave trade redundant.

He provoked laughter when he described how the inland people struggled to understand how he had come out of the sea, regarding him as some kind of ‘merman’, and joked that he spoke African languages now better than his own English.

But he was not joking about the slave trade. His campaign against the slave trade was about to become an unstoppable force. Not in a meeting in a leafy suburb discuss evils elsewhere, not in the parliamentary debating chamber or the great halls of London, but in the hills and valleys of Africa, face to face with the Portuguese and the chiefs who sold their young.

Livingstone had a vision to end the trade by another form of commerce, and by a different form of society, but he actually helped end it by teaching and persuading instead. And in addition of course, he left us the clues that helped us understand Malaria and other diseases, and the information that helped generations better understand the geography of this region of the amazing continent of Africa.

Some have dismissed Livingstone’s positive legacy by pointing to his failings. We all have failings, but his are used to question if he really was a great humanitarian and lived the life he wanted others to follow.

We cannot hold Livingstone accountable for the behaviour of others after he died. His attitudes – which were far ahead of the times in many respects – were not always consistent in the way he dangerously drove his family and friends on his journeys.

His family life was affected by this unrelenting drive to discover and convert. Mary Moffat may have been a fellow pioneer, and very supportive wife, but life must have been very hard for her, and especially for their children.

But the first post independence President of Zambia, Kenneth Kuanda, did not describe him as Africa’s first freedom fighter without good cause. Livingstone led the way, and he stuck the course. He gave respect and he won respect.

That is why today Blantyre is still Blantyre, and so many other places still hold his name. The graves and memorials for him, his good wife Mary, and his key followers have stood the test of time. All the upheaval, all the conflict, all the development and changes, and yet his memory lives on with the Africans he believed were equal.

Because he believed they were equal.


Of course, in the aftermath of his death there was to be good and bad.

It is dangerous to generalise, but safe I think to summarise that he would have been proud of the ‘Coming of the Scots’ in the decades after his death: of the Livingstonia and Blantyre Missions, the commitment to education, health services and infrastructure that Scots and others from the UK brought to Malawi and Zambia in his name.

But he would have been horrified that his trail-blazing was also followed by exploitation and cruelty, and he would have been sad that so many had to die nearly 100 years later fighting for basic freedoms.

He would have been proud again when the Scots rose up to defend Nyasaland, or Malawi, in churches, in the media and in Parliament - where in 1959 Margaret Herbison MP drew her inspiration from Livingstone himself, as the nationwide petition and the pressure on Ministers finally resulting in the independence of Malawi in 1964.

And today he would have loved the Scotland-Malawi partnership – a genuine partnership, not run by governments but maintained and developed by the people of both nations.

In 2005 I wanted to turn the energy of Make Poverty History into a legacy for Scotland that would last. The Co-operation Agreement signed by President Mutharika and I on 4th Nov 2005 was inspired by Livingstone’s memory, and his values. Indeed on my first visit there that year, I was told in no uncertain terms by Malawians that Livingstone had not discovered Malawi or Zambia, they had discovered him.

We did not want an agreement that was just about Scots donating to Malawi, or about how helpless the Malawians were without us. We wanted an agreement that was based on mutual respect.

Where people would be encouraged to work with people, supported by government where appropriate but not directed by government or reliant on government. We recognised that both could learn and develop, both had something to give. Malawi had more urgent needs, but Scotland and the Scots would benefit too in other ways.

When President Bingu Mutharika attended the conference of the Scotland Malawi partnership in November 2005, he evoked the spirit of Livingstone and spoke warmly of his role in the history of our two nations.

2 days later we went to the David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre, Scotland and the President had tears in his eyes as we observed the shackles and the other artifacts from the slave trade on display there. He could recall the stories told by older members of his family of the Scotsman who had come to free Malawians from the slave traders who sold young men and women never to be seen again.

Since the Co-operation Agreement in 2005 the partnership has flourished. The number of people here giving their time, resources, energy and imagination to helping Malawi is incredible.

Research by Edinburgh University in 2010 valued the inputs of volunteers contributing to Scotland – Malawi partnership activities at £30 million per annum. They estimated that 1.3 million Malawians were helped in the previous 12 months, with 280,000 Scots benefitting too. And approximately 148,000 Malawians and 85,000 Scots were actively involved in delivering these activities.

Nowhere is that more true than in relation to our young people. Primary and secondary schools, colleges and Universities have answered the call. Across Scotland, not only are our schools helping education in Malawi in ways large and small, but Scots children are learning more about the world and about citizenship than they will ever get from a text book. And they have had their horizons widened in ways that will be of immeasurable benefit in years to come.

And now the Scotland-Malawi Partnership – with its 600 members and affiliates – has a new wing. The new youth section, in just a few months, has over 200 members of its own. This new generation is determined to build a better world, and they will lead the charge to deepen and expand the partnership for the future.


So what are the lessons from his legacy for today.

First, just as they will use the words of Robert Burns and so many other great Scots, opponents in the constitutional debate will each claim Livingstone for their side of the argument in the coming referendum. But, like so many others including Burns, Livingstone is a complex figure.

Despite the fact that he was a proud Scot, and drew so many inspirations and influences from 18th and 19th Century Scotland, he was funded and supported mainly from London. He represented the London Missionary Society and the Royal Geographical Society and he was loyal to them.

We cannot draw any lessons from then to guess at what his view might be for or against an independent or separate Scotland today. We can only know for sure that he would have wanted us to be without prejudice, to be open to new ideas and to new people, to look outward whenever we can.

Second, if Livingstone were to come back into our midst today, I believe he would be angry – angry at the way his maps and love of the fertile land were abused by so many after his death to treat Africans as animals and get rich quick.

Angry that it took a century for Africans to win their freedom back, and angry that the new leaders in so many of the new states were so corrupt and power hungry that they forgot why they were there and left their people impoverished.

He would be shocked by the unequal distribution of power around the globe even today. He would have deplored the language used at times, and the still patronizing and dismissive talk in our world about those who live in desperate conditions elsewhere.

He would be surprised that as many as 200 million cases of Malaria still occur each year, with over half a million resulting in fatalities. He would be mortified that despite all our riches, we have allowed, and at times created, a world where even now over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty.

And he would be horrified by the scale of international human trafficking, with 2.5 million people at any time suffering in forced domestic labour or sexual exploitation.

But thirdly, he – as an optimist – he would see the great potential that is finally emerging.

Economic growth is high in Africa, and seems to have resisted the worst of the recent global crisis to provide real hope that many former impoverished states can reach middle-income status in the not too distant future.

Millions more go to school, deaths from preventable diseases are down dramatically, and cross border conflicts can be counted on one hand. Across the continent, stable democracies are becoming the norm against which others are judged, not least by their own people.

So, despite all the setbacks and the challenges, there is real hope that the future he imagined might be on the way at last.

Against that backdrop, what can we do in his name in this Bicentenary year?

For me, he stood for understanding others and ourselves; for celebration of diversity, partnership with other cultures, judging human beings by their character and actions not by their colour, or where they come from.

This year, we can individually and collectively resolve to redouble our efforts to put that into practice at home and abroad.

We can maintain Britain’s leadership in recent years in development aid and post conflict peacebuilding. We can support those who are trying step by step to build a more even distribution of power in the world.

We can encourage all Scottish schools to deepen their global education and ensure the horizons of Scottish kids are as wide as they can be. We can support the research here and elsewhere that will reduce tropical diseases to the level we now expect of previous killers in our country.

We can be more humble in our views and dealings, and take responsibility for our actions.

And in the debate here over the next year in Scotland we can determine that a debate on independence will not make us more insular. We are strongest when we are as he was - internationalist in our outlook, and open in our character.

On that tombstone are his final words

“All I can add in my solitude, is,
may Heaven’s rich blessing come down
on everyone, American, English, or Turk,
who will help to heal
this open sore of the world.”

After all this time we may not be there yet, and there are sores still to heal. But we can do it in this Century, and I for one sincerely hope we will.

Steve Pateman, Santander - 23rd Nov 2011

Steve Pateman, Executive Director, Corporate, Commercial & Business Banking, Santander UK plc will discuss the current banking crisis and its hidden challenges.

Santander lecture