5.4 Being Scottish, or being something else

Research into the archaeology of modern Scotland should define the questions relating to and explore notions of Scottishness and the interaction of Scottish, British and other (local, regional, national, religious, cultural, political, class etc.) identities and ideologies.

What is the material culture of national identity and what does material culture say about complex ideas of nationhood and their varied and contested history?  Current research at National Museums Scotland, for example, is investigating the development of national engineering styles in Scotland, and elsewhere, and much work has already been done to identify the distinctive nature of engineering diasporas (Buchanan 1986; Marsden and Smith 2005).  Distinctions can be drawn here between Scottish and other forms of identity (or between different forms of Scottishnesss): archival material, especially sales brochures and plans, suggests that many railway companies and machine tool manufacturers identified themselves as North British either for ideological or commercial purposes.  Moving from the factory to the home, some recent work has sought to explore issues of national identity through the decoration of mass-produced ceramics (especially in relation to depictions of ‘national’ scenes), see e.g. Brooks 1997; 1999.

It will be important to remain critical here.  Is modern material culture better understood in terms of identity or of ideology (ideas and concepts mobilsed in relation to power and politics)? Is national identity irrelevant in analysing most material culture (and what does that tell us about the significance and meaning of ideas of nationhood)?  In considering questions of identity, there is a tendency to focus on difference, and explorconsideration of difference should be balanced with consideration of similarities across apparent social and cultural divides. Explicit attempts to restructure people’s nationhood (often through legislation) and how this has been resisted should also be explored.

There is a need to consider the multiple, complex, contradictory, shifting and fluid nature of cultural, social and political identities, and to consider how these were manifested, represented, contested and conditioned by the material worlds which people inhabited.  To take one example, research can shed light on the material history of the nature of and relationships between Gaelic and Scottish identities and ideologies and their interaction in the modern period.  While it is important to avoid the easy perpetuation of cultural caricatures and the idea that there is such a thing as a homogenous and bounded Gaelic or Scottish culture, it is the case that perceptions of cultural distinctiveness have been significant in conditioning people’s beliefs about and actions towards each other.  Perceptions of a separate Gaelic/Highland culture began to emerge in the Middle Ages and took on new form in the Renaissance, Enlightenment and Romantic periods of the modern past (Withers 1992).  This ‘outside’ perspective assumed a distinct, separate Gaelic Other, whether positively conceived as the cultural essence of Scotland or negatively perceived as a wild and to-be-feared cultural counter-balance to the civilised society of the east and south of the country (those areas under the closer control of the Scottish state).  From the Gaelic side, shared oral traditions and shared historical narratives have contributed to the development and persistence of a sense of separation from, and opposition to, a Lowland culture, society and political establishment (e.g. Newton 1997).  Rather than taking these perceptions of bounded separation as beyond question, current thinking should explore the materialities of their generation and their effects and consider the evidence which points to more multiple, fluid and hyrbid identities in the modern past.

Consideration should also be given to allegiance, which is linked to but not the same as identity.  Current research (i.e. PhD research by Jennifer Novotny, University of Glasgow is looking at Jacobite-era material culture, for example, and its role in defining and maintaining allegiances in uncertain times, whether pro-William medallions or Jacobite glasses used to toast the ‘king across the water’.  And research can develop understanding of foreign stylistic influences on Scottish material culture and architecture and the significance and meanings of these influences as they relate to political and cultural allegiances might also be considered. An example here is work on Scottish castles, considered by one author to be more appropriately labelled Scottish Chateaux (McKean 2001).

See also the ScARF Case Study: Being British, being somebody else

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  1. Lecture: Scottish diasporic military identities c.1880- present“‘Wha bears a blade for Scotland?’: the construction of Scottish diasporic military identities, c.1880- present day”Dr Wendy Ugolini presented an introduction to this Royal Society of Edinburgh funded joint project between the University of Edinburgh and the National Museums Scotland at the 2011 Society of Antiquaries Anniversary Meeting.See the fullscreen lecture here Society of Antiquaries You Tube Channel

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