Showing posts with label Identity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Identity. Show all posts

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Saint and the Weary Blogger

St. Andrew's Day Dinner 2012

Elections are, for employees of the Board of Elections at least, hard work requiring long hours. Since I last posted seven weeks ago I have worked an average of 9 1/2 hours a day and have had four days off. However, I wasn't going to let a little thing like complete and total exhaustion interfere with my second St. Andrew's Day Celebration.

Unlike last year, nothing was made from scratch. Thursday evening on the way home from work I stopped by Gaelic Imports and purchased half a dozen meat pies, baked beans, a can a Lilt, and assorted chocolate bars. I thought peas would be a yummy addition to this repast. The import store did have a few kinds of canned peas including mushy ones. I have eaten peas that could be described as mushy many a time in the UK and thought they were the result of bad British cooking. Then, one day, I saw them, in the Sainsbury's in Partick: canned mushy peas. It was right there on the label - mushy peas. I was absolutely shocked. They were *supposed* to be that way. Needless to say, I did not buy them in Sainbury's nor did I buy them in Gaelic Imports. Instead, I used an ancient bag of frozen peas I found in the back of the freezer.

My plan for the chocolate bars was that everyone one would get one and then we'd have a few left over for later. My dad's plan was that we should cut them up and all try a little bit of each one. Don't tell him I said this, but my dad's plan was much more fun than mine. My mother even found a Picnic bar in the cupboard that we added to the cavalcade of chocolate.

I don't know if my family's St. Andrew's Day was anything like yours, but we had a good time. For me, especially, it helped ease some of the pressure and stress of the past several weeks. But I think my favorite part was when my mother remarked how proud my Grandfather would be, knowing that we were celebrating our Scottish heritage. I hope you too find time to celebrate your heritage during this coming holiday season.

There are at least four recounts in the county where I live and work. Consequently, I have no idea what my schedule will be like between now and the New Year. Hopefully, it will be much less hectic and allow me to start posting more regularly again.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

History of Scottish Nationalism: A New Series from BBC Scotland

Scott's View

The Cause: A History of Scottish Nationalism is a new five-part radio series from BBC Scotland presented by Billy Kay.

From the press release:

  • In The Cause, Billy Kay explores themes of identity, culture, history and politics to trace the development of Scottish nationalism and its political expression in the rise of the SNP.  Billy speaks to nationalists who have devoted their lives to a movement which a few decades ago was regarded as peripheral and irrelevant, but which is now at the centre of national life.  These include veterans like former Party Chairman James Halliday and editor of the Scots Independent Jim Lynch, seminal figures like Gordon Wilson and Winnie Ewing, and the family of the hugely important figure of “King” John MacCormick – all tell their version of their story from within the movement.  Others recall the sneers, the personal hostility and animosity their Scottish  patriotism provoked at one time and the sacrifices many people made for the cause of Scottish independence in the past. Modern Scottish nationalism is expressed by Humza Yousaf MSP, whose father was the first Asian member of the SNP, and by First Minister Alex Salmond who looks forward with optimism to the future.

Read the post about the series on the BBC Scotland Radio blog here.

The series is only available on the BBC iPlayer here, not as a podcast. Episode 1 ends today (30 September 2012). Episode 2 airs tomorrow (1 October 2012).

with thanks to Karin Bowie

Sunday, September 9, 2012

War, Identities, and Scotland's Diaspora: Day Conference (15 Sept 2012)

On 15 September 2012, the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies will host a one-day conference, Homelands: War, Identities, and Scotland's Diaspora from 1880 to present. It will take place from 10:00 to 16:00 at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Read more about the conference here and order tickets here.

Scheduled speakers include Dr. Tom Devine, Dr. Tanja Buetlemann (The Scottish Diaspora Blog), David Forsyth, Dr. Esther Breitenbach, Yvonne McEwan, and Dr. Stuart Allan. View the complete program here [PDF].

If you live close enough to Edinburgh to attend the conference it would be a great opportunity to either learn more about the historic context of the life of a military ancestor or find out what's new in the academic world of Scottish Diaspora studies. I would imagine that since the conference is co-sponsored by the NMS and open to the general public, that the speakers will tailor their papers accordingly, e.g. one would hope that  "academic speak" will be kept to a minimum.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Flowers, Scotland, Song

I've been working on client research and book research this week to the exclusion of almost all else. Consequently, I'm was feeling a little uninspired for blogging today. But inspiration hit in the form a Facebook post by History Scotland.  They post about events in Scottish history just about daily and it seems that on this date, 12 August, in 1990, Roy Williamson of the Corries and author of Flower of Scotland died at the age of 54.

Flower of Scotland is the official anthem of two Scottish sporting teams and was selected to represent Scotland during the opening ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympics. Along with Scotland the Brave it has become one of Scotland's unofficial national anthems.

Since Flower of Scotland did not appear, as far as I know, on any of the Andy Stewart albums my family had, I didn't became aware of  it until I lived in Glasgow. I got the impression, from those around me, that it was about William Wallace. It's actually about Robert the Bruce's defeat of Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn. In a post-Braveheart world, it's easy to see how Wallace, Bruce, and Bannockburn could get all mixed up.

Lyrics in English, Scots, and Gaelic plus a bit of history are here at Wikipedia; analysis of Flower of Scotland as a nationalist hymn at the Modern History Sourcebook is here along with lyrics of that and other national Scottish tunes, a podcast from In Our Time on the Battle of Bannockburn is here (scroll down, the original air date was 2 February 2011), and finally, the official Flower of Scotland tartan is here,

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Scotland, Books, and Identity. Oh My!

If you are interested in modern Scotland and/or issues of identity but prefer literature to history, you might want to listen to to New Scottish Writing from the Guardian's Book Podcast. This episode was recorded in August 2011 at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Topics include the best new Scottish writers and the role of fiction in exploring national identity.

The correspondents produced several podcasts while at the Festival including Jackie Kay and Sebastian Barry: Identity and Struggle and Gothic Edinburgh. There is also a short video of an interview with Alasdair Grey here. I know he is one of the most renown Scottish authors, but I must confess that I tried to read Lanark and hated it so bad that I couldn't finish it. I soon sold my copy to a fellow student.

I hope you enjoy these podcasts about Scottish fiction more than I enjoyed Lanark.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Migration Museum (UK) Project: Information & Resources

A plan is afoot, and has been for several years, for a major new museum in the United Kingdom. While the UK does have an abundance of museums, it lacks one devoted to the importance of migration to these islands. According to the proposal (here, PDF) the Migration Museum would "treat immigration as a major event," use interactive story techniques, discuss migration into and out of the UK, and include exhibits and a research archive.

Further information about the proposed museum is included in a 2009 discussion paper (here, PDF) by ippr (the Institute for Policy Research). They argue that the museum would benefit the citizens of the UK by highlighting their shared history which would help establish a shared sense of identity. They also propose creating a database of researchers working on migration history (see item 6 on pg. 12).

The third piece of literature regarding the museum is the 2009 report, "Stories Old and New: Migration and Identity in the UK Heritage Sector" by Mary Stevens. This report is essentially a literature review of what already about exists in the UK regarding migration. Basically, there isn't much as unlike the US and Australia the UK has never defined itself as a nation of immigrants; it simply isn't part of the national narrative. The report further addresses how the heritage sector can play a role in changing the narrative. While this report clearly focuses on migration into the UK, it does mention a several resources on emigration, for example the The Swedish House of Emigrants (aka The Swedish Emigrant Institute).

While the Migration Museum is still in the project stage it does have a website (here) where you can learn more about the project, find a Learning Zone with teaching resources, view the 100 Images of Migration Gallery, and more. Keep up to date with the Museum via Twitter (@MigrationUK).

Look for future posts on selected emigration resources mentioned in the report.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Exhibiting Scottish Identity - A Lecture in Edinburgh and Aberdeen

A lecture entitled "Exhibiting Scottish Identity: The 1911 Scottish Exhibition of National History, Art and Industry" will be presented by Neil Curtis of the University of Aberdeen in Edinburgh on January 30th and in Aberdeen on January 31st.

Read the announcement from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland here. You can find more about Neil Curtis here.

Identity is a subject important to both historians of migration and of Scotland. This presentation should be especially enlightening given the current discussion of the Independence referendum.

with thanks to @socantscot

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

Happy Hogmanay! (Learn more about Hogmanay here and here.)  For your New Year viewing pleasure I present two videos.

The first video (above) is Alex Salmond's New Year Message. It was shot at the refurbished National Museum of Scotland, which looks amazing, and discusses Scotland's many links with the world and it's exciting future. And while there is no mention of increasing dialogue or outreach with Scotland's Diaspora, there are picture of the Pandas.

It wouldn't be New Year's without Auld Lang Syne. Furthermore, since the song is based on the poem by Robert Burns, it is more than appropriate for this blog. I watched several videos by pipe bands playing the tune. Many were quite good and some even had beautiful pictures of Scotland. Finally, I decided they were too much of a cliche. So, the second video (below) is Auld Lang Syne by the Red Hot Chili Pipers.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Inventing Tradition OR Angst on St. Andrew's Day

A St. Andrew's Day Feast
When I lived in Glasgow, nobody paid much attention to St. Andrew's Day. This did not trouble me because we never celebrated it in my household while I was growing up, my mother never celebrated it her household growing up, and by extension, one can assume that my grandfather, who was born in Scotland in 1914, never celebrated it while growing up either.

Last night, however, St. Andrew was honored in our house. As I had no idea what one did on a saint's day, except eat a special meal, I made it up as I went along. I didn't want to cook a huge, fancy meal, as I had already done that for Thanksgiving. I found a recipe for Cullen Skink (BBC Good Food, January 2001) and another for individual Steak, Potato and Leek Pies (Bon Appetit, May 2004). Essentially, I planned soup and sandwiches for dinner, with shortbread for dessert.

Planning, apparently, was the easy part. Smoked haddock is not available locally, so I had to special-order smoked whitefish. This worried me as I had no idea how a substitution would impact the soup. I envisioned cooking and dining to a playlist which included Andy Stewart (yes, I have mentioned that I a part of the ancestral diaspora and we like him), Travis, Eddi Reader, and Capercaille. The playlist did not got made.

At about 5:30, I went downstairs, a bit despondent about the music situation, to start cooking for the meal to be ready at 6:30. I ended up putting on Celtic Thunder and Celtic Woman and tried to be happy. Then as soon as I started chopping, my dad announced that he had to LEAVE at 6:30 and wouldn't be back until about 7:15. My niece had stayed home from school that day and said she would "try" the soup, but asked if she could have salad instead of the pie. I took my irritated self into the kitchen to chop potatoes, leeks and onions and then the music stopped. Oh my, I was hating my plans and St. Andrew at that moment.

The music stopped because my mother quickly made a playlist of Andy Stewart and Kenneth McKellar. That cheered me up considerably. At 6:30, I had just finished chopping and had started to make the pies. Preparation and cooking always seem to take longer than anticipated. Of course, if I had noticed that the pie filling was supposed to cool completely before I put it in the pastry, I might have been better off. At 7:30, an hour later than I had planned, we sat down to dinner. The music got changed to something a little more suitable to dining and as we began to eat, my father finally got home.

The Cullen Skink was wonderful and everyone liked it better than they thought they would. I think they were frightened off by the name. And the pies were amazing, thanks in part to pie crust made by Mr. Pillsbury Doughboy. We were too full to eat any shortbread after dinner.

All in all, despite a couple of angst-ridden hours, our St. Andrew's Day celebration was a success. It also helped me realized why people invent traditions like this - it's fun. We tried new recipes, listened to music we don't normally listen to, thought about our ancestral homeland, participated in an event promoted in modern Scotland, and made an ordinary Wednesday into something special. I would do it again, and maybe invent some new things to add to our November 30th festivities. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Bookshelf: American Scots by Duncan Sim

Last month, I received a very special parcel in the post: a copy of Duncan Sim's new book, American Scots: The Scottish Diaspora and the USA. Sim, a Reader in Sociology at the University of the West of Scotland, interviewed Scots and Americans of Scottish descent in the states of Colorado and New York for this work.

As with all books I plan to read, this one sat on the shelf for a week or so, mocking me, before I picked it it up. Once I did start it, I finished it quickly; it is written in a manner that makes it largely accessible to a non-academic audience. This is the first time in a while that I've read a book so closely related to my own research interests. It was fun to see names of scholars that I know (Newton, Bailyn, Beals, Germana, Hook, and Cowan) in the footnotes, along with those whose work I have read (Devine, Ray, Handlin, Fry, Richards, Gjerde, Gans, Graham, and McCarthy). It was a bit like walking into a pub where you know everyone - very cozy.

In the broadest sense, Sim and I are interested in the same subject: Scots who emigrated to America and the ways these emigrants maintained a sense of Scottish identity in their new homes. We approach the subject through two different disciplines. Simply put, as a sociologist Sim studies the living; and as an historian, I study the dead. Although we both dabble in the other's discipline: Sim includes a brief historic context and I use migration and network theories to better understand the historic diaspora. Consequently, not being a trained sociologist, I can't comment his methodology or conclusions, nor do I think it would be fair to be overly critical of his historic context (actually, it isn't bad, fairly standard and mostly about the Highlands, which to be fair is what's out there).

The thrust of American Scots is an analysis of the Scottish Diaspora in the United States - how do they construct a sense of identity, nationality, and belonging. However, this project is not as straightforward as it might sound as the Scots first reached North America in the 17th century and haven't stopped coming. Therefore, in the United States there is the "ancestral" diaspora, whose most recent connection to Scotland might be an immigrant who arrived in 1750, and the "lived" diaspora, those who were born or grew up in Scotland. [For more on the terms, lived and ancestral, which Sim does not use, read this post.]

The work is divided into nine sections; an introduction plus eight chapters. The introduction includes a useful discussion on the meaning of diaspora and the various categories of migration. This section might be a bit hard-going for those of you not familiar with diaspora or migration studies. My earlier post on Team Scotland, aka the Scottish Government, and their reports on the Diaspora should prove helpful. The first chapter focuses on the use of hyphenated identities in the United States and various stages of assimilation. Essentially, Americans are quite happy being both American and German or Scottish or whatever and the latter does not infringe upon their American-ness.

Chapter Two is the "history" one with background on emigration to America; establishment, decline, and rise of Scottish cultural groups; and a section on family histories. Sim accepts these family histories at face value, which is appropriate for this work. As a historian, I can't help questioning the accounts: two people said their ancestors were forced out after the '45, went to Ulster and eventually came to America. Seriously? Did they really do that (no matter how unlikely it seems to me)? If yes, there's someones dissertation topic sorted. If not, why do these people believe it? The remaining six chapters examine the relationship the diaspora has with modern Scotland, they ways Scotland has learned to cherish its diaspora, Tartan Day, and involvement in Scottish expatriate organizations.

The strength of Sim's work is that he interviews members of both groups and treats both, particularly the ancestral diaspora, with sensitivity. His juxtaposition of both groups, along with the analysis, helps explain why Scots in Scotland often mock Americans who travel to Scotland to seek their roots and why the Scots-born do not generally join Scottish heritage groups in the United States. Essentially, being "Scottish" means something different to both groups and they each seek to maintain their identity in different ways. I found Sim's discussion of this fascinating, as I have my feet in both diaspora camps. The part of me connected to the ancestral diaspora loves tartan, castles, pipes and shortbread tins. The part of me that is the lived diaspora would rather hang out with the New York Tartan Army than attend a Kirkin' o' the Tartan. That's saying alot because I hate football (soccer).

I really enjoyed this book and recommend it. At $54 it's not badly priced for an academic book, though a bit pricey for your average hardbound. If you teach any course that includes the themes of immigration or identity, I think this book would be really useful: it has discussions of diaspora and identity, case studies, footnotes and bibliography, and is a good read. If you are an American of Scottish descent, particularly one involved in heritage or cultural groups, this work will help you understand, well, you. If you live in Scotland and encounter loud, brash Americans, reading American Scotstheir goal, then American Scots might be a discomforting read.

many thanks to Dunedin Press for the unsolicited review copy!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

St. Andrew's Day is November 30th

St. Andrew's Day has been November 30th for a really long time. However, it hasn't been celebrated in a big way, either in Scotland or by the Diaspora. For the latter, Burn's Night and Highland Games were the important events for maintaining identity and links with Scotland. Recently, when people were trying to pick a date for Tartan Day, November 30th was deemed to cold and not a good time for parades. Since it snowed at my house on Veteran's Day, I can't say that I blame them. 

But there seems to be a renewal of interest in St. Andrew and his Day and this month Team Scotland has released an App to provide information, ways to celebrate and events to attend. Details about the St. Andrew's Day App and links to download it are here. The app includes a database of activities in Scotland. Events occurring outside Scotland are available via a weblink. Take the time, less than two minutes, to watch a cute video about St. Andrew. Apparently, he migrated to Scotland, or at least his bones did. There is a guide to hosting your own event which includes information about food, whisky, music, and what to wear. The music section has a Spotify link and a list of nine songs (most of which I didn't recognize). The final section, what to wear, is all about The Kilt.

As you might know The Kilt is worn by men. This fact reminded me that I read somewhere (Celeste Ray, I think) that Scottish Heritage, at least in the United States, is all about being "manly." I'm not certain I agree with this assessment as there are many other ways to maintain links with an ancestral homeland. I am partial to foodways. On the other hand, many Scottish organizations used to be for men only, the national dress is for men, and many of the "big" events at Highland Games are for men. However, I'm not sure how this makes Scotland different from any other country where power and cultural symbols are controlled by men. 

Not listed in the St. Andrew's Day App is the St. Andrews and Caledonian Society Special 125th Anniversary Event at Simon Fraser University. On Wednesday, 30 November, Dr. Gerard Carruthers (Director, Robert Burns Centre, U. of Glasgow) will present "The Unpseakable Scot: The Image of the Scot in the Media." Everyone is welcome, and there is no charge for this event.

On the other hand, if just want to stay home but want to do something St. Andrews-y, you can sign-up for Scotland Exchange, they are trying to reach 500 members by 30 November or you can follow @standrewsday on Twitter.

with thanks to @ScotlandExchang

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Mother of All Conferences - The AHA 2012

Now is the time of year that historians and history graduate students begin planning to attend the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association. The 2012 meeting, which meets in Chicago January 5th - 8th, will be the 126th. Also meeting in Chicago at the same time will be several dozen affiliated societies. Altogether, this cavalcade of history will include 257 sessions of the AHA proper, countless sessions of the affiliated societies, over 1500 scholars presenting their work, and who knows how many search committees and interviewees.  I would estimate the Annual Meeting will attract over well over 2000 people.

I was excited by this year's theme, Communities and Networks, as it fits so closely with my own research interests. But I've just gone through the preliminary program and while I did find many interesting panels, I didn't find many that sounded like what I do. Translation - no papers on Scottish emigrants (heck, there aren't even any papers about Scotland that I could see*) or even emigrants from the Britain. But, of course, if someone were doing a paper on British emigrant networks in the late 18th century, I would have totally been upset and felt like they were encroaching on my territory; which is completely nuts because there are more than enough 18th century emigrants to go around.

I did find four panels relating to networks, identity or migration that might be of interest to readers of this blog; but with so many sessions, I probably missed some. There are also several panels about trade networks and communities, World History, digital history and teaching.

The AHA is an experience not to be missed. I've gone three or four times and have always learned something and met interesting people.

*Update 30 Oct: There is one Scottish Session: Scottish Engagement with the British Empire in the Twentieth Century : From Celebration to Critique? (National History Center Session 5).  with thanks to @BritishScholar

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Crafting My Heritage

Amanda's Tartan Quilt

I've been reading recently about how many Americans of European descent often pick and chose their ethnic or cultural affiliation. So many of us come from "mixed" backgrounds, that it is impossible to identify with them all. Most of these cultural groups then recreate or invent traditions associated with their chosen homelands in order to maintain connections with it. In effect, Americans craft their past.

In 1992, I literally crafted my past by creating the quilt pictured above. Some years previous, my mother had given me the tartan sample book from my grandfather's Scottish import shop. Why did I take them? I recognized immediately that the tartan samples were perfect quilt squares. The book, however, was big and bulky, so I ripped out all the squares and ended up with a tiny tower of tartan.

When I finally got around to making the quilt, I asked my dad how I should organize them. He said, "Alphabetically." "Great," I thought, "I don't remember what any of them are called." Luckily, I tripped across a copy of Tartans: Their Art and History by Ann Sutton and Richard Carr. My father and I then spent countless evenings matching up  squares with their pictures in the book, ticking them off one by one, slowly dismantling the tartan tower. Our matching project was reasonably successful and the tartans are all organized alphabetically until you get to the fourth row from the bottom. If you look closely in the fifth row from the bottom you will notice a Dress Royal Stewart square, the one immediately below it is the first unknown pattern.

I took the quilt with me when I went to graduate school in London, when I moved to Ohio from California, and when I went to Glasgow to pursue my Ph.D. Although in the latter case, it was a bit like taking coals to Newcastle. I love tartan, especially the bright, cheery red ones, like Royal Stewart. (Although, I know it can be used inappropriately: I've seen tartan carpeting. Ugh!) I love this quilt because of its connections not only with my grandfather and Scotland, but also my father. I've always wished I would trip across another unwanted book of tartan samples so I could make a second quilt. Though, nothing could ever be as special as this one: my heritage, personally crafted by me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Interview: Matthew Hammond and PoMS, Part III

Welcome. I interviewed Matthew Hammond of the University of Edinburgh about the PoMS (Paradox of Medieval Scotland) database via email in September 2011. Here is the third and final installment: 

Amanda Epperson [AE]: How were the royal family trees established? What types of documents were used to verify relationship? How did you establish the accuracy of the evidence?

Matthew Hammond [MH]: It must be stressed at this point that the family trees are, like the simple search and the more advanced browse search functions, a way of getting into the database and finding out more about individual people. So the family trees that are there now are not research outcomes but rather more of a route in. The royal family trees are not particularly controversial; they are well established and we used them based on the most current academic books on the topic and the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, in conjunction with the data from the database itself. In future, it is hoped to include many more databases on individual families, and these will require further research using the data in the database itself. 

AE: How might students, historians, and instructors use this database?

MH: There are many ways to search the database. The simple search box, which works just like a Google search, makes it very easy to get started. The obvious place is to start with a particular family name or place-name and take it from there. There are very useful tutorial guides available on the website, and the browse tab will take you to the faceted browser, which allows you to look at much more detailed aspects of the documents. For example, you may want to find all the people mentioned in ‘pro anima’ clauses in charters. These are clauses which specify that a gift is being given to the church in exchange for prayers, often for family members, and sometimes a dead child. Another interesting aspect that users can explore are the feudal conveyances on land, whereby the tenant must give the lord a symbolic render every year: popular choices were white gloves and a pair of gilt spurs. Of course, land was sometimes held for military service, and users can see, for example, estates that were held for fractions of a knight’s service. The database is linked together through ‘factoids’, a technical terms for linkages denoting things like relationships and titles. So you can easily search family relationships using these factoids.

AE: What books would you recommend for those interested in Medieval Scotland? For those interested in Scottish identity studies?

MH: There are actually a number of very useful starting points on the PoMS website, including a historical introduction to the period ( and an explanation of the paradox (, both written by top scholar Prof Dauvit Broun for newcomers to the subject. There is a great deal of recent work on Scottish identity, by Prof Broun, myself, and others, but mostly published in academic journals and volumes of collected essays. There are a plethora of books now available on medieval Scotland: one classic which is quite accessible is Geoffrey Barrow’s Kingship and Unity. A more recent survey of the period is Keith Stringer’s excellent chapter in Jenny Wormald’s Scotland: A History, in the Oxford Illustrated History series.

AE:  What did the project reveal about social relationships in Scotland during this period?

MH: A great deal. A volume called The Paradox of Medieval Scotland 1093-1286 will be published next year with contributions from many of the project team members and those on the advisory panel. These include major pieces by top scholars including Keith Stringer, Cynthia Neville, Roibeard Ó Maolalaigh and David Carpenter, as well as chapters by important new voices like Alice Taylor. These offer new perspectives on a variety of issues including law, feudalism and the Gaelic language. In the meantime, a great deal of the new research coming out the project is available for free on the website. The Features of the Month include discussions of a myriad of topics ( The project also provided fertile ground for the study of charters themselves, as evidenced in a free book on charter issues (

AE: Most people won’t be able to trace their ancestry to the Middle Ages, unless they luck into a landed family with an established pedigree. Can you recommend any books about life in Medieval Scotland that would give family historians idea of what these distant ancestor’s lives might have been like?

MH: Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough books exploring the everyday lives of people in Scotland in the Middle Ages. This is largely due to the paucity and nature of the sources, but it is also slowly starting to change. A new paperback published by Edinburgh University Press, A History of Everyday Life in Medieval Scotland, 1000-1600, is edited by Edward J. Cowan and Lizanne Henderson, and includes chapters on the sights and smells of living in a medieval town, and the culture of gaming. Also very useful are the books published by Historic Scotland, called the ‘Making of Scotland’ series. Piers Dixon’s Puir Labourers and Busy Husbandmen explains life in the countryside, while Derek Hall’s Burgess, Merchant and Priest explores life in the burghs. I also have plans to write a book looking at what it was like to live in Scotland before the Wars of Independence, but it is still in the planning stages.

Abernethy, Brown, Cameron, Campbell, Douglas, Fleming, Grant, Hunter, Lindsay, MacDonald, Melville, Oliphant, Sinclair, and, of course, Scott. We are currently in the process of expanding the database up to 1314, and that means we will have the names of hundreds if not thousands of new people when the new updated database is launched next year (exact date TBA).

AE: to all SEB readers, I hope you have enjoyed this interview and are inspired to visit PoMS  and to learn more about Medieval Scotland.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Haggis Wontons: Cultural Fusion in Vancouver

Leith Davis of the English Department at Simon Fraser University analyzes Gung Haggis Fat Choy, in a 2009 article "A New Perspective of the Scottish Diaspora," here in html and here in pdf.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy, a blend of Burns Night and Chinese Lunar New Year, was first celebrated in Vancouver in 1998. Davis uses this event as an example of non-Scottish Discursive Unconsciousness (SDU). You can read all about SDU in Colin McArthur's chapter in Transatlantic Scots. Essentially, he has this idea that Scots go on auto-pilot when referring to Scotland and can not help themselves when understanding their (ancestral) homeland in terms of Culloden, tartan, Burns and shortbread tins. Davis argues that this unique Vancouver event, while having elements of traditional Scottish trappings, is also its own thing.

Read the article and see what you think. Davis makes a persuasive case. On the other hand, SDU is handy because if you are in an immigrant situation the host country will understand tartan, Burns and shortbread tins, but not necessarily newer, more recent images of Scotland like the Armadillo in Glasgow or the Falkirk Wheel linking the Forth and Clyde Canals.

Outside of arguments about identity creation, Gung Haggis Fat Choy simply sounds like a lot of fun. For more information about it try here and here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Interview: Matthew Hammond and PoMS, Part II

Welcome. I interviewed Matthew Hammond of the University of Edinburgh about the PoMS (Paradox of Medieval Scotland) database via email in September 2011. Here is part two:

Amanda Epperson [AE]: Where was Scotland during this time period, 1093-1286?

Matthew Hammond [MH]: The area under the control of the kings of Scots grew steadily during this period, and we have defined the boundaries of the project according to ‘where’ Scotland was in 1286, when Alexander III died. One of the happy accidents of this fact is it included the Isle of Man, so charters dealing with the Isle of Man are indeed included in the database. While the Hebrides were signed over to the kings of Scots in 1266, the Orkney and Shetland islands remained under the authority of the kings of Norway until the fifteenth century; therefore these areas are not covered. This is a moot point as there are no surviving charters from those areas before 1286 anyway. The border between England and Scotland fluctuated in the twelfth century but was agreed on the Tweed-Solway line in 1237.

Come back next Tuesday for the third and final installment of my interview with Matthew Hammond.

AE: What is the “paradox”?

MH: The ‘Paradox’ was also coined by the late great Professor Rees Davies, an historian who was primarily concerned with the cultural interactions between English and Normans on the one hand, and Welsh and Irish on the other. The paradox refers to the Scottish kingdom, the part of the British Isles which Davies knew least. The idea of a paradox comes from the inability of Scotland to fit models which are based on the ‘domination and conquest’ of Norman and Angevin England over Wales and Scotland. According to this model, it seemed paradoxical that Scotland was the most Anglicized and yet also the only kingdom outside England to retain its independence. This apparent paradox gets at the heart of the questions we wanted to explore with the PoMS project.

AE: Is the “paradox” really not a paradox at all? Does it simply result from misinterpretation of events in Medieval Scotland by previous scholars?

MH: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

AE: What is prosopography? Why is it useful in historical research?

MH: Prosopography is the study of networks of human beings. Database technology is perfect for this because it allows us to search large groups of thousands of people. The Poms database has about 15000 people in it, many of whom are interrelated by marriage, friendship, and landholding ties. The research side of the PoMS project was about re-examining these social relationships in a new light, with an eye to issues like feudalism, law, and language.

AE: Were the actions of the Kings of Scots similar to the state-building of other European monarchs of this time period in that they subdued local or regional sources of power in favor of their own centralized authority? Do you think a similar process of “Scotticisation” happened at all levels of society or just at the elite level?

MH: Yes, the actions of the Kings of Scots were very similar to those of other European monarchs at this time. This included the expansion of royal power into peripheral areas which had only recognized loose overlordship previously, such as Galloway, Argyll and the far North. Royal authority was also tied up with patronage of the church, and the kings of Scots established a number of new monasteries, from the Borders to Moray, and supported the increasing power of bishops over centrally organized dioceses. This was underpinned by a network or royal castles, sheriffs and royally-licensed burghs, mainly in the lowland regions.

Generally speaking, ‘Scotticization’ refers to the new, expanded sense of Scottishness, and it is clear that it was attached to this growth in royal power, because all one had to do to be ‘Scottish’ under the new definition was to be a subject of the king of Scots.  My research has been based on evidence to do with a few different groups, including knightly families, professional clerics or people with a career in the church, and merchants and traders, many of whom were working internationally. It seems clear that this new sense of Scottishness was evident at many levels of society. At the same time, this national identity should not be overstated. Regional and local identities continued to be very important throughout the Middle Ages.

AE: How did the Anglo-Normans and other incomers to Scotland during this time period come to Scotland? Invasion? Invitation? Did those who arrived first then become anchors who encouraged the immigration of their countrymen to Scotland?

MH: They came to Scotland by invitation of the Scottish royal house, in dribs and drabs under Macbeth and Malcolm III, and then more steadily under Malcolm and Margaret’s sons in the first half of the twelfth century. David I established some of the most famous families as part of his royal household, including the Bruces and the Stewarts. Knights often came as part of the households of their patrons; this included retainers and relatives of Scottish queens and countesses like Queen Maud de Senlis, Countess Ada de Warenne and Queen Marie de Coucy. We shouldn’t think of the borders as nearly as fixed as a modern border however, and members of these families might spend part of their lives in Scotland before then moving on to some other situation in England or the Continent. There were many different contexts for immigration, but one of the things that makes the twelfth and thirteenth centuries so interesting is that it was a period of improving climate and growing population, and the one period in recorded history when we have many more people moving into Scotland than moving out of it. 

AE: How does the medieval/Gaelic use of clann differ from the modern use of the word clan?

MH: This is a very complicated question which historians and Celticists are still grappling with – ask me again in ten years!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Interview: Matthew Hammond and PoMS, Part I

Welcome. I interviewed Matthew Hammond of the University of Edinburgh about the PoMs (Paradox of Medieval Scotland) database via email in September 2011. In the interests of full disclosure I should state that Matthew and I were PhD students in the  Scottish History Department at the University of Glasgow at the same time. Here is part one of the interview:

Amanda Epperson [AE]: Where did the idea for the data base come from?

Matthew Hammond [MH]: It grew pretty naturally out of my PhD thesis, which was completed at the University of Glasgow in 2005. For my thesis research, I created some MS Access databases covering all laypeople in Scotland north of the Firth of Forth between 1100 and 1260. The original idea was to build on these databases by extending them in time to 1286 (the date of the death of Alexander III) and geographically to the whole of the kingdom of Scotland. However, once we teamed up with the experts at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at Kings College London, who had already built the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England (PASE) and the Prosopography of the Byzantine World (PBW), it became clear that the new database would be much more sophisticated and any data would have to be entered again from scratch.

AE: How long did it take to create the database?

MH: Three years. It took quite some time to get the grant off the ground, as the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project’s funder, was undergoing some adjustments at the time. We started in August 2007, and it took the better part of the first year to design the database, which was mainly done in Skype meetings between myself, Dauvit Broun of Glasgow and John Bradley of CCH. The main difference between the PoMS database and others is that it is primarily based on charters, and thus it goes much farther than other databases in attempting to represent and convey the specific nuances of charters as a source. In the meantime, we were putting together our master list of about 6000 documents. Amanda Beam-Frazier was particularly productive in creating descriptions of ecclesiastical and papal documents at that point.

AE: The project is based on information found in charters. What exactly is a charter?

MH: A charter is a document similar to a title deed for a house. It records the transfer of property from one person or group of people to another. These were authenticated by wax seals attached by a cord or a parchment tag. Most medieval charters are in Latin, although in some places, such as pre-Norman England, they were sometimes made up in vernacular languages. The earliest Scottish charter dates from 1094, so we are effectively starting there with the database. There are relatively few charters in the first half of the twelfth century, but by the mid-thirteenth century they become much more numerous, and even people of relatively modest means have their own seals. Only a small percentage of the charter texts in the PoMS database survive as original parchment sheets. Most of these survive in books kept by monasteries and other ecclesiastical institutions called cartularies. So for that reason we have a disproportionately large number of charters to church institutions.

AE: Why is understanding the formation of Scottish identity so important/interesting to scholars?

MH: Scottish identity is perhaps the most nebulous of the identities in the British Isles. The other identities – English, Welsh and Irish, match up very neatly with language groups in the Middle Ages. The term ‘Scottish’ began as a synonym for the Irish, or simply any Gaelic speaker. Politically, the heartland of the Scottish kingdom was based on a hybrid kingdom, called Alba, which was basically a largely Gaelicized extension of Pictland. By the twelfth century, this core had grown to include formerly or currently English-, Welsh-, and Norse-speaking districts. By the late Middle Ages, the kingdom had developed the more dualistic English/ Gaelic or Lowland/Highland divide which survives in some ways to this day. So Scottish identity is complicated, and describes a more nuanced reality than perhaps was the case elsewhere in the British Isles. At some point in the thirteenth century, the nature of Scottish identity changed and became much more inclusive. Prior to that, the term ‘Scottish’ was used to describe inhabitants of the core kingdom of ‘Alba’ north of the Forth. By the late thirteenth century, people south of the Forth and people speaking English, French and other languages were able to call themselves Scots too. In that sense, you have a transformation similar to  what happened in England in the twelfth century, when the descendants of the Norman conquerors began to think of themselves as English.

AE: Did the Anglo-Normans who migrated to Scotland create immigrant communities or otherwise attempt to maintain their culture?

MH: The population group one would think of most readily in those terms was the Flemish. Flemings were settled across Scotland, but often in low-lying areas that needed drainage, such as the Clyde valley and the Moray coast. As in places like Pembrokeshire in Wales, it is possible that these Flemish kept their language for a few generations. They certainly introduced some of their personal names – Erkenbald or Archibald being the most well-known. They also adopted Scottish places for their surnames, and the families of Douglas, Murray, Innes and Leslie were all descended from Flemish immigrants.

Europeanization, which is described by Robert Bartlett in his excellent and quite affordable book The Making of Europe.

Scotland was also taking part of the spread of the English language at this time, as English spread from its existing core in the Southeast of Scotland across the lowlands. This mostly took place in the burghs, trading centers populated with people from across the British Isles, where English was the most common language. It is at this time that English starts to spread into the countryside in places like Fife and Angus and Ayrshire. We also see the spread of English agricultural practices, with the use of field systems known as oxgangs and ploughgates north of the Firth of Forth. This process of Anglicization is described in Rees Davies’ interesting book The First English Empire.

Come back next Tuesday for Part II of the interview.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Migration, Identity and Scotland

Scott's View, near Melrose

Many historians who study immigration are also interested in identity: who did the emigrants think they were before they left their homeland and how did this change in their country of destination. Similarly, many historians who study Scotland are also interested in identity. A colleague of mine once talked about "the trendy notion of Scottish identities." Despite the "trendiness" of the topic it is a really interesting question - how did a region with many regional identities and languages (Pictish, Viking, Briton, Gael) which was later overlaid by immigrants from Normandy and Flanders become Scots? You can read more about identity formation in Medieval Scotland at Senchus: Notes on Medieval Scotland here and here; and in a 1996 article by Dauvit Broun of the University of Glasgow here; listen to Dauvit Broun discuss the available documents from this time period on BBC's Making History here, and explore the actual participants of this identity formation during the 11th-13th centuries at PoMS: The Paradox of Medieval Scotland.

Come back next Tuesday for the first part of a three part interview with Matthew Hammond, lecturer in Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh and co-investigator of PoMS. Matthew will discuss among other things what the paradox was, scholarly fascination with Scottish identity, and how the database was created.


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