Senior Sem Journal: Shaping Scottish Identity

Our next Senior Seminar journal entry comes from Danielle Johnson (’12), who is studying the development of Scottish identity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. While she intends to focus on Romantic writers like James MacPherson and Sir Walter Scott, this post finds her exploring other influences.

Gottlieb, Feeling BritishThis week, in my quest to discover the shaping factors of Scottish identity, I read a chapter of Evan Gottlieb’s scholarly monograph Feeling British: Sympathy and National Identity in Scottish and English Writing. I read his chapter titled, “’That Propensity We Have’: Sympathy, National Identity and the Scottish Enlightenment,” which focused on how the works of Enlightenment thinkers David Hume and Adam Smith defined and understood national identity. After reading this, I thought it would be appropriate to read John Lowrey’s article in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, “From Caesarea to Athens: Greek Revival Edinburgh and the Question of Scottish Identity in the Unionist State,” which explored how the development of the Scottish city of Edinburgh in the 18th century reflects how the Scottish people understood themselves in relation to England, and as part of Great Britain.

As I was reading these two articles, I was struck by the very different manners in which one can approach the topic of national identity. Gottlieb examined national identity through the lens of philosophical writings, while Lowrey examined the Scottish understanding of self through the architectural development of a city. Both articles provided evidence that there was a sort of embrace of being British as well as Scottish during the 18th century, but in my opinion, Gottlieb did a better job of recognizing those who did not feel a “British” sense of national identity, and recognized that the Northern and Highland opinion was much more pessimistic of the Union between their country and England.

I found both articles to be very interesting, and also quite dense. It took me several cups of tea (I started “Feeling British” myself) to read through the articles and I had to look at a lot of their footnotes to understand their references in a way in which I could grasp the fullness of their arguments. This was the case particularly for Lowrey’s article, as I am almost completely unfamiliar with architectural history. I thought both articles cited really interesting sources; Gottleib included a correspondence between David Hume and Adam Smith that I believe helped me have a more imaginative understanding of this time period. (In the letters, the two philosophers were trying to decide which city would be best to live in. It was concluded that France was too foreign and Londoners hated the Scotch, so Edinburgh was probably best).

– Danielle Johnson

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