8.4 Political landscapes

People are constituted through particular experiences and ways of seeing the world, but are not constituted in isolation. Landscapes are material, ecological and social relationships and need to be understood, amongst other things, in terms of their political and contested nature. Landscapes are not freely known: the land is owned, organised and controlled and this allows certain ways of perceiving and experiencing landscape and limits or denies others. Yet, while this is true, the power relations of landscape are never fixed and settled, but always open to variation, manipulation and contest. Archaeology can shed light on questions of ownership, organisation, control and contestation by interpreting the materialities and practices through which landscapes have been formed, inherited and transformed.

In terms of the organisation and re-organisation of landscape, we can investigate the administrative structure of landscape and its significance for particular lives. Take, for example, parish boundaries, the re-organisation of which was not simply a matter of church bureaucracy but one with implications for the routines of life, requiring people to travel new routes and distances to worship or for burial, re-working the pattern of connections between settlements, churches and burial grounds and making certain churches redundant (and, in doing so, creating the possibility for their association with alternative practices and beliefs; see also ScARF Case Study: Landscapes of Belief).

The practices and material transformations through which modern ways of owning can be studied by researching how particular ways of managing and controlling land came to be established and by analysing howparticular interests and visions have been realised and pursued through the landscape. The characteristic pattern of landholding in Scotland today – the large estate – emerged from changes in the way land was controlled and managed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Studies of Early Modern castles in their landscape context have analysed some of the ways in which feudal lords or clan chiefs transformed their landscape relationships to become modern landowners (Dalglish 2005a). The modern landed estate also emerged through significant changes to the management and use of the wider landscape. Building on medieval roots, large-scale commercialisation of the landscape became widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries (e.g. Dodgshon 1998; Davies & Watson 2007). In certain ways this was an incremental and organic process, but land management and land use change were also subject to conscious re-planning then and later in the modern era and archaeology and cognate disciplines can shed new light on such planned change and on its negotiation and contestation in practice (see e.g. Dalglish 2003; 2005a; 2009; Given 2004, chapter 8; Lelong 2000; 2008; Symonds 1999a; 1999b).

Alongside studies of the material history of privately-owned rural estates, archaeology can and should deal with matters of organisation, control and management as related to civic and state intervention in the landscape. Urban planning and development control has a long history in Scotland, with medieval origins (Gray 1996). Through the material evidence we can comment on the long-term, medieval-to-modern history of urban planning, the implementation of planning in practice, the effects of planning actions and regulations on particular urban landscapes and communities and much besides. Recent archaeological excavations occasioned by the construction of an arm of the M74 motorway through the South Side of Glasgow have, for instance, investigated the archaeology of Victorian sanitation and environmental health provision, analysing the introduction of water, drainage and sewage infrastructure (see Dalglish 2005b for a wider discussion of this topic). Civic improvement, more generally, has been a focus of archaeological enquiry, in terms of its mechanisms and material manifestations, its national and international character and its local adoption, transformation or rejection (Tarlow 2007; Mayne and Murray 2001).

During the 20th century, the State intervened more frequently in the landscape, in concert or conflict with established interests such as those of the estate owner and the civic authority. As with those other forms of ownership, management and control, the practices forming State presence in the landscape are amenable to archaeological enquiry. Over the last century, the State has taken powers to shape, manage and control major tracts of land: the designation of scenic areas, national parks and other landscapes singled out for special treatment; the acquisition, nationalisation and transformation of estate for forestry, military, industrial and other uses in the national interest; the strategic development of transport infrastructure, such as railways and motorways; the implementation of agricultural policies, with tangible effects on the character of the fields, soils, buildings and other features of Scotland’s farming landscapes and on the nature of rural life; and the passing of planning legislation and other instruments controlling the use and development of the landscape. Some past State interventions are evident today in relict military and industrial landscapes; many continue to structure the landscape-as-lived today. Some of these State interventions in the landscape have already seen some investigation by archaeologists and other material historians, including landscapes related to Second World War forestry operations in the central Highlands (Sneddon 2007), the Second World War and Cold War archaeology of the defence estate at Cape Wrath (http://www.rcahms.gov.uk/defending-the-past.html) and the coal mines in the nationalised era (Oglethorpe 2006). Future work should extend consideration of State intervention in the landscape and enquire into the material and social effects of this intervention which, in one way or another, has transformed the form and character of most of Scotland’s landscapes and significantly altered the manner in which they are lived and perceived.

Given the significant part which actors such as the estate-owner, the planning authority or the state agency have played in shaping the modern landscape, it would perhaps be easy to conclude that the role of archaeology here is simply to illustrate the history of private, public or third sector policy implementation. In part, this is the job at hand, but archaeological research, with its concern for human interaction through and with the material world, can shed light on two questions of deeper significance for our understanding of the politics of landscape in the modern past: What was the practice of landscape control, organisation, planning and transformation? To what extent was central authority over landscape accepted, aided and supported, challenged or resisted by others?

Grand schemes of agricultural and civic improvement, Clearance, landscape design and modernisation all, at some point or another, had to leave the drawing board to be implemented in practice, with varying results. In doing so, they would have been confronted with other actors and interests and with local conditions and circumstances. One task for an archaeology of the modern landscape is to assess the impacts of processes of landscape change and re-organisation on the populations affected – on their surroundings, their experiences and relationships and their perceptions. But to leave things there would be to render those populations passive in the history of modern Scotland. We need to consider the extent to which farmers, workers, developers and others supported, implemented and influenced landscape change on the ground, the extent to which pre-existing traditions and practices inflected the path of planned processes like improvement and the extent to which the given physical characteristics of the land channelled change down certain avenues and closed off others. Alternative histories need to be developed which chart the extent and the boundaries of surveillance in the landscape, and thus the limits to control imposed by the physical and social landscape (e.g. Le Beau 2011); histories which explore the possibilities for resistance to and defiance of imposed authority, such as we see with the physical or cultural re-inhabitation of cleared landscapes (e.g. Lelong 2008); and histories which evidence the creation of other, non-sanctioned ways of being, as seen for example in landscapes of illicit whisky distilling (Given 2004) or folk belief.


See also the ScARF Case Studies: Redrawing the religious landscape and Landscapes of Belief


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