5.2 Constructing the state: defining borders

A key part of the coming-to-be of the modern state is the construction and de-construction of borders. In the case of Scotland, consideration should be given to the material processes and practices whereby the Anglo-Scottish border was defined and re-defined, and consideration should also be given to the more diffuse borders defined by Scotland’s coasts and islands, including the Scottish-Irish border of the North Channel and the Scottish-Scandinavian border in the north (this border shifted north of the Pentland Firth in the 15th century, but continued to be contested after that time, especially in cultural terms). Consideration should also be given to the various customs ports and other entry points where movement and trade was subject to control, and it should be given to the evasion of control: the archaeology of smuggling and other illicit movements. Border questions include: How did the state define, consolidate, operate and maintain its borders on the ground? In other words, how did borders materialise and manifest themselves? What did it mean, in cultural, social and economic terms, to live in a border zone? How were Scotland’s borders contested in the modern period? How permeable or impermeable was the country’s ‘skin’ in the modern past? What effects did border creation and transformation have on people, place and landscape? Was life either side of a border different? What happens when an external border becomes an internal border (e.g. the Anglo-Scottish border after the Union of the Crowns and the Union of the Parliaments)?

Borders are much more than lines on a map showing where administration and jurisdiction begin and end: to be meaningful, they have to be created in practice. At the beginning of the modern period, the problematic zone either side of the North Channel – problematic in the eyes of the state – was subject to a series of measures, initiatives and processes intended to bring it under the control of the Scottish then British authorities. The 17th-century Plantation of Ulster is perhaps the best known aspect of this, and much archaeological work has been undertaken on the Irish side of the North Channel to investigate the nature, meaning and practice of the Plantation. In the late 16th and the 17th centuries, though, western Scotland – particularly Kintyre, Lochaber and Lewis – was also subject to state-driven plantation, involving the transfer of lands to loyal undertakers, the creation of towns and other measures intended to transform the material, cultural, social and political character of the region. There has been little archaeological work seeking to explore Plantation as implemented in Scotland by the Scottish and British states, but this topic has great potential for deepening understanding of the process whereby the modern state was created (see also the ScARF Case Study: Archaeologies of Plantation – the Early Modern Irish/Scottish border).

More has been done to explore the archaeology and architecture of the Anglo-Scottish border zone, through studies of shielings, meeting places and bastle houses. Interpretation of the latter, in particular, has explicitly considered the opportunities and threats presented by life close to a border line. Research should seek to understand what borders such as this meant on the ground: this border must have seemed fluid and highly permeable, a line to be crossed (for trade, military action, raiding on the small and large scale)  (Caldwell 2010). Recent research into the later medieval/early modern salt-making industry, for example, has studied the industry on either side of the border and indicated that this development was synchronous on both sides of the border line. But all this is not to argue that the border had no reality, and evidence for its meaning can be found, for instance, in the monument to Edward I on the English side of the border, at Burgh Marsh in Cumberland. Edward I died on this spot in 1307, while preparing to cross north into Scotland with his army. His troops apparently raised a cairn to commemorate the event of his death and, in the modern era, the Duke of Norfolk re-commemorated it, erecting an obelisk on Burgh Marsh in 1685. The date of 1685 may be significant (the death of Charles II and the succession of James VII and II). The obelisk was replaced in 1803 and, in or before 2010, was augmented with graffiti proclaiming ‘Alba’. This site of commemoration continues to form a focal point for the expression of national sentiments, its border location and its historical associations no doubt playing a role in its choice for this purpose.

Borders should be seen from both sides and considered both in terms of their permeability and their meaning as physical, political, social and cultural divides. There are opportunities here for collaborating across Scotland’s borders to gain a fuller understanding of border zones by working with researchers on the other side of the line.

In concert with an analysis of Scotland’s dynamic borders, the ways in which the state sought to pacify the territories within its borders, suppressing perceived or actual internal discontent and opposition, should be considered. Additionally, the ways in which the state sought to defend itself against external threats, and the impacts of the ‘sense of threat’ created by the tangible daily presence of defensive structures and features in the landscape should be a focus of research. In this, future research can build on the recent upsurge of interest and activity in battlefield and conflict activity in Scotland (see Pollard and Banks 2010 for a review). The field of conflict archaeology is relatively new, developing rapidly over the last two decades in Scotland and the U.K. In relation to the question of national defence, the CBA ‘Defence of Britain’ project (http://www.britarch.ac.uk/cba/projects/dob) has established a baseline record, in particular for the extensive remains of World War II, including anti-invasion defences, practice works and training establishments, airfields and other infrastructure of a country on a war footing. In many cases entire landscapes were militarised, often on land acquired through compulsory purchase by the state. Some were demilitarised after the war, while others have remained active as restricted, militarised areas. The ‘Atlantic Wall’ on Sherriffmuir (Cowley et al.1999),  for instance, presents itself today as a landscape-scale complex of archaeological remains which provide a unique insight into the preparations for the D-day landings: high on moorland above Stirling the defences on the Atlantic coast of France were recreated for the training of troops, with a sinuous track and rectangular platforms marking the shore and representing landing craft and, further up the ‘beach’, there is a section of reinforced concrete wall with associated bunkers and other features, pock-marked with impact craters and, in one place, completely demolished. In contrast, the Kirkcudbright Training Area in Galloway, comprising 19 square km of ground acquired by the War Department in 1942 and used extensively for tank training and testing, remains an active facility. Since the 1940s, this landscape has been used extensively for weapons-testing and training purposes. Its redundant facilities, where they survive, are a rich vein of information for a facility for which documentation and oral records are remarkably hard to come by (partly because of deliberate policies of secrecy which led to the systematic destruction of historic records and partly through casual loss/elimination as such material was seen as an irrelevant reminder and unnecessary encumbrance).

Internal pacification includes military conflicts such as those associated with the Jacobite wars (not confined to Scotland, of course) and lower-level, but no less significant, conflicts associated with industrial unrest and episodes such as the Land Wars. In cases such as these, and in others such as the clan battles and skirmishes of the earlier part of the period, the state collaborated with certain sections of civil society, who acted both in their own interests and as agents of that wider power. Undoubtedly the best known example of punitive action carried out by local forces serving the crown (but also settling long-standing local grievances) was the Massacre of Glencoe. The sites of settlements which were the scenes of such events (such as Glencoe or the old town of Inveraray, which was sacked in 1645) should rank alongside battlefield sites as subjects for further investigation.

National defence and external conflict has taken many forms during the modern period, extending from conflict with Tudor England at the start of our period (when Scotland was the Vietnam of its day, the location for a proxy war between the two superpowers of England and France (Caldwell and Ewart 1998)) through to the Cold War and post-Cold War periods. Barracks, forts and other material manifestations of such defence and conflict have been studied for some time, especially those originating in the earlier modern centuries Tabraham and Grove 1995.  More recently, greater attention has been paid to the remains of defence and conflict in the more recent past, including those of the Second World War.

Taking a critical and subtle approach to issues of internal and external conflict requires us to look beyond the empirical facts of military and civil tension to consider their cultural and social meanings and effects. For example, how important was the materiality of defence to the creation of a sense of (Scottish and/or British) nationhood? Was the presence of defence installations crucial to the creation of a sense of opposition to and fear of the Other, often crucial to the generation of a sense of national self? Taking a critical stance towards issues of state pacification and defence also requires us to question the simplicity of any historical narrative which implies the inevitability of the extension of state control and to consider the actions and processes of state from a number of different perspectives, writing more than one version of this history.

See also the ScARF Case Study: Archaeologies of Plantation – the Early Modern Irish/Scottish border

Comments 2

  1. Cantonment Register – British Army records 1745-53

    The Stennis Historical Society has transcribed British Army documents from 1745-53 and created an interactive map of sites and locations of army camps in Scotland mentioned in the document. It is available here https://sites.google.com/site/stennishs/

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