4.5 Self against Society

Being a member of a community does not mean there was homogeneity in values, beliefs, politics or interests, and archaeologies of the modern past can explore social conflict and resistance at a number of levels and scales. At its most overt, such conflict and resistance took the form of rebellion, riot, warfare or crime. However, the contested nature of society did not just manifest itself in overt and violent action. Archaeology can do much to dig beneath the surface layers of society to expose the many, often low-level and hidden practices through which people circumvented, ignored or subverted dominant or orthodox ways of doing things, continued to engage in traditional practices despite imperatives to change, sought to live outwith the normal structures of society, and rejected mainstream values or imposed beliefs and relationships.

Take, as an example, the varied opposition to the monopoly of the established church which we see in religious non-conformity and recusancy (Dransart and Bogdan 2004; MacRobert 2010; Proudfoot and Aliaga-Kelly 1997; Slade 1974; Williams 2005). Covenanters have been investigated archaeologically in excavations at John Brown’s House in Ayrshire and Covenanting practice could be explored further through archaeologies of place and landscape relating to the sites of conventicles. Amateur archaeological investigation has revealed some evidence of covenanters’ services near Gourock cemetery at White’s Well and Pulpit Rock in Larkfield, Renfrewshire. Organisations such as the Scottish Covenanters Memorial Association work to preserve the funerary monuments of the Covenanters whereas another focus has been their torture and places of execution.

The archaeology of religious resistance to the Established Church by Catholics, Episcopalians and other nonconformists can readily be explored through the material culture of worship. Catholicism in Scotland is a relatively neglected subject. Mgr David McRoberts did much to identify pre-Reformation artefacts and the forthcoming publication of his Rhind lectures will further the understanding of this theme. But, while academic interest in the subject has been sustained to some extent through the Innes Review, there has been little substantial research into the material culture of Catholicism after the Reformation. The character of Catholic worship and its liturgy meant that the mass was usually celebrated indoors, in rooms that temporarily served as chapels. In some Scottish houses, evidence remains of post-Reformation places of concealment for priests or private oratories or chapels. Examples of the material culture of Catholic worship, such as travelling chalices, can be found in the National Museums of Scotland and Blairs Museum collections. In a broader context, the archaeology of religious identity (concealed and otherwise) might be explored through comparative studies of the material culture of Catholic and Protestant communities in the Outer Hebrides. The material culture of worship for the Covenanters has left fewer traces. As they gathered outdoors, increasingly in isolated locations as their persecution persisted, there is not the same structural evidence of clandestine worship which also lacked the range of religious utensils and paraphernalia of Catholicism. Nonetheless, the National Museums of Scotland also holds communion tokens issued by the Covenanters in their collections.

A photograph showing the front and back parts of a token mould and smaller numbered stamps

Communion token mould from Fife. The early modern person was heavily shaped by their interactions with the church. Whilst recent work in areas such as church architecture and changes in burial practice has made great in-roads into the topic, there are still gaps where scholarship (particularly of material culture) is outdated and requires new, fresh approaches drawing, for instance, on current material culture studies. For example, communion wares, communion tokens, and the material culture of discipline have all received only limited attention since the antiquarians. Those who have worked with this material (e.g. Todd 2002), have done so primarily as historians, overlooking the objects themselves and how their materiality contributed directly to shaping modern individual and communal experiences of self, ©NMS

Resistance of another kind is shown by those groups whose values and ways of life exist in parallel with mainstream ones, but rarely intersect. Such groups include, for example, utopian ‘intentional communities’ and travellers. Glasgow Museums has a collection of four caravans, along with other material, which broadly date from 1900 to 1999. This collection consists of one horse-drawn caravan and three motor vehicle-drawn caravans. They address three subject themes: traditional Gypsy or Roma living; travelling showmen and fairs in Scotland; and the Faslane Peace Camp. The ornate, heavily carved and brightly painted Reading caravan was built in 1918 by Dunton and Sons of Reading, and rebuilt in the early 1980s. The showman’s living caravan, built in the early 20th century, is mostly in its original condition. The second showman’s caravan was manufactured to an American design around 1955 and owned by the Carter family. The fourth caravan, from the Faslane Peace Camp, is equipped with bed, bedding, clothes, cupboards, wood-burning stove, chair and table, pictures, posters and curtains. In addition, the collection holds associated documents, images and newspaper clippings that relate to the four caravans and to the Faslane Peace Camp protests (Glasgow Museums Collections Navigator http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/collections-research/online-collections-navigator/Pages/home.aspx).

Recommendations for further reading include Dransart and Bogdan 2004; MacRobert 2010; Proudfoot and Aliaga-Kelly 1997; Scottish Covenanter Memorial Association: http://www.covenanter.org.uk/ Slade 1974; Williams 2005.

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