3.1 Introduction

Archaeologists are naturally interested in the local contexts of material practices: they excavate in particular places, survey particular landscapes, study objects which were made here and used there.  Archaeological interests, evidence and methods lead directly to the immediate circumstances of past lives.  Yet modern life is global in social, cultural, economic and political terms.  Modern lives are conditioned by events, processes, developments, structures and institutions which extend beyond any one locality and link places across regions, countries and continents.

Should the archaeology of the modern period work towards a history of the recent Scottish past which emphasises local distinctiveness, or one which focuses on the undeniably global nature of the modern world?  ScARF is a research framework for Scottish Archaeology and, conscious of this, the focus here is on questions of the local/global as they relate to people, things, places and landscapes within Scotland.  This is not a research framework for the archaeology of all those parts of the globe with which modern Scots have been connected, through conquest, colonisation, trade, missionary endeavour and many other mechanisms.  This is not to diminish the value of forging solid links between Scottish research and research elsewhere in the world as a way of realising a globally local perspective on Scottish archaeology.  Nor is it to deny the benefits which work in Scotland can provide for extra-Scottish research.  It is simply to emphasise that the primary focus of this framework is the archaeology of Scotland.

How should we approach the articulation of global trends with particular lives?  Recognising that the history of the modern world is at once local and global, research under this theme seeks to relate the different scales or aspects of modern life.  Here, the terms ‘local’ and ‘global’ are shorthand for diverse relationships and the concern is for a greater understanding of the ways in which particular people and particular places were enmeshed with wider processes, conditions, circumstances and structures.  In Reformations above, the focus was on the articulation of individual research initiatives with understanding of key historical processes, with an emphasis on change through time.  Here, the emphasis is on processes, practices, relationships and connection as they extend through space.

Research into the modern world must be sensitive to the particularities of the places and people being studied without forgetting that the destiny of those places and people were bound into – though not necessarily determined by – a wider world.  It is crucial for the development of a globally and locally sensitised archaeology of modern Scotland to recognise the danger of over-stating distinctiveness or, indeed, sameness, and to problematise these concepts.  Research should question the commonplace assertion that Scotland (or parts of it) were and are inherently different, distinct, special in cultural, social and material terms.  Research should also adopt a critical stance towards the argument that Scots, even while abroad from home, thought and acted in distinctively Scottish ways – this is the notion of a ‘Scottish Empire’, for instance, sitting within the British Empire but distinct and capable of separation out from it (see for example Devine 2003 and Fry 2001, although it should be noted that Devine and Fry take quite different stances on the question of how the character of this ‘Scottish Empire’ should be understood).  And, while we resist easy assumptions of Scottish distinctiveness, we must resist equally easy assumptions of the uniformity of the globalised modern world: a world which is ‘flat’ in social, cultural and economic terms with no remaining local texture.  All such assertions do little justice to the complexities of modern life and the modern past, rely on a blinkered view of the evidence and on much special pleading, and encourage and support simplistic positions on political, social and economic problems in the present.

In seeking a nuanced approach to Scotland’s globally situated localities, there is no need to proceed from a standing start.  This question of the relationship between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ has been much debated in modern-world archaeology.  In this, there have been useful attempts to identify themes which link the archaeologies and histories of widely-dispersed places, and archaeologies of capitalism and of colonialism have established their place on the agenda in both the Old and the New Worlds (e.g. Johnson 1996; Leone and Potter 1999; Orser 1996).  Responding to the perceived homogenising tendencies of such ‘global historical archaeologies’, others have argued for approaches which emphasise the unique character of life in different places (e.g. Gilchrist 2005).  Most recently, discussions have moved on from any simple opposition of the general and the particular to the pursuit of more subtle understandings of how particular lives were affected by and contributed to wider developments (e.g. Johnson 2006; Orser 2009; see Dalglish 2009 for a Scottish example).  Charles Orser (2009) has advocated a ‘dialectics of scale’, emphasising that it is the relationship between the particular and the general which matters and that neither perspective is adequate on its own because history emerges from the interaction of a multitude of circumstances, conditions, actions and processes, each more particular or more general than the next. 

In the rest of this chapter, a selection of specific topics is discussed to highlight some of the avenues which might be taken in the exploration of modern Scotland’s globally influenced local past.

See also the ScARF Case Study: Mobile material practices



A photograph of an archaeological excavation showing walls and brick work surfacesCase Study: Mobile material practices

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  1. Pingback: 3. Global Localities – The Scottish Archaeological Research Framework

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