Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Does the Diaspora care about Scotland?

I'm not sure how I tripped across Keep Your Kilt to Yourself, a 2001 article from the Economist, but I saved it and finally read it. The article wonders why the Scottish Diaspora isn't more like the Irish one: why do those of Scottish descent need to be convinced to import Scottish goods or travel to Scotland. The date of publication was October 2001 so part of the American desire not to travel abroad had its roots in 9/11. The author then discusses the work of Tom Devine, who was due to speak at Columbia that month, and why he believes the differences exist. There were more Irish who came and they were united by their Catholicism and desire for Irish independence. Additionally, most Irish were unskilled while the Scots were skilled and therefore more quickly able to adapt and succeed in the United States.

Devine echoes these similar ideas in one of his recent articles published in the Scotsman. In this piece he laments the fact that second generation Scottish-Americans don't care about modern Scotland in the same why that Irish-Americans do.

I was always interested in Scotland as the place were my grandfather was born; I did not become interested in modern Scotland until I had lived there. I would suspect that something is true for many people - they are interested in their ancestor's pasts, whether that past be in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Italy or Scotland.

Additionally, almost anything that says "British" in America really means English. I was forever irritated with universities sought British Historians to teach Tudor-Stuart Britain or Britain since 1688 as these time frames are clearly demarcated by English History and most didn't even include Scotland in the course descriptions. Seriously. The only time Scotland appeared in some British history books that I've seen over the years is when they were "pestering" the English. The Original Thirteen Colonies were the always the English Colonies. In US History textbooks the Union of 1707 merits about a sentence. When I was young we were taught that all the people and documents that influenced the American Revolution were English. Although, I am not sure that this is still the case. So, we in America, are not trained to think of Scotland as a modern nation in the same way we are trained to think about England or Germany. 

This article was written when I began the third year of my dissertation - nothing but write, write, write and mad dashes across the Central Belt to the National Archives of Scotland. (On the bus because it was cheap!) Then I left Scotland the following year. So, I am not sure what became of the website mentioned in the Economist article or whether Homecoming 2009 was a success. But since they are planning a new one in 2014, it can't have been all that bad. The Scottish Government's Diaspora Engagement Plan from November 2010 is here.

So what do you think? Does the Scottish Diaspora care about Modern Scotland? If you don't care, what might encouraged some concern on your part?


M. H. Beals said...

I think the issue of British / Scottish / English is probably a lot more important than many people believe, especially in America where Scotland’s precise status is not always understood. To wit, my fourth grade teacher (1993) allowed me to write on Scotland for my country report but my friend could not write on Wales (as it wasn’t a ‘country’). Likewise, Jon Stewart’s constant references to the Prime Minister of England (even after Tony Blair and Gordon Brown corrected him on air) only add to the confusion. It is, after all, where most 18-25 year olds get their world news.
I think, however, the moment that really brought it home for me was last year when a student of mine, born and raised in northern England, asked if she should refer to it as the English Government or the British Government when talking about the American Revolutionary War.
In eighteenth and early nineteenth century Scotland, it was fashionable to subsume an ‘English’ identity. As this is when the so many Scottish migrants departed for what is now the United States, they were perhaps more successful than they could have hoped.
As a final thought, however, I had a number of friends (and students) attend homecoming 2009, all of whom raved about their experiences.

BDM said...

I confess I haven't read it, but Ken McGoogan's title says it all for me! How the Scots Invented Canada. ;-)
- Brenda

Amanda E. Epperson said...

Thanks for the link to the article Brenda. I did read it and must confess I didn't know about either of those books.

perkinsy said...

I have had your post open on my computer for days while I pondered my response. I fit in the category, 'ancestoral diaspora'. My great grandfather was the first of his family born in Australia - they settled in the Western District of the colony of Victoria in the mid nineteenth century. There was a labour shortage due to the gold rush and we suspect that they were hired from Scotland by a farmer through networks he had with their area in Scotland due to their skill in building dry stone walls.

Our family were very proud of their Scottish heritage. Their farm in Australia was called Cumnoch and we have photos of a family reunion in the 1960s with a piping in of the haggis. The older family members try to visit Scotland at least once in their lifetime. I think mine is the first generation without such a strong Scottish identity. Language is an important indicator of connection. Our family appears to have been Gaelic speaking (as well as English) until around WWI. However my grandmother's generation was the last that seemed to have spoken Gaelic.

Beals has hit the nail on the head. The 'British' (rather than English) identity was important to the Scottish settlers in the nineteenth century and this attitude is certainly evident in our family until probably the 1950s. However their affinity to Britishness did not mean that they subsumed their Scottish identity. They quite happily had two identities as many Australians do today.

The Irish had a deep grievance towards the English and they also suffered as a result of anti-Catholic prejudice in Australia. Disadvantage and injustice unites people. I don't know how the Scottish Catholics fared here - it is the Irish Catholics who get most of the historic attention.

Thankyou for your thought-provoking post!

Amanda E. Epperson said...

Yvonne & Melodee - thanks for such great comments! However many Scots outside Scotland who adopted an English or British identity, I think there were others who did not. My grandfather, who came to the US in 1924, was proud of being a Scot, not a Brit. My cousins & I have never thought of ourselves as being "British-American." Additionally, the early 19th century community of Scots I studied for my dissertation and few others I have tripped across appear to have thought of themselves as some sort of Scottish group, not British.

perkinsy said...

I suspect attitudes towards Britishness of the Scots who migrated to the British colonies would have been different to those who migrated to the United States. There was a very strong British sentiment here in Australia until probably the 1960s which would have not been present in the United States. Of course we are talking in broad brush-strokes here - The Scots in Australia would probably have had a variety of attitudes. Having said that my family publicly identified themselves as Scottish, but also British.

petecorr said...

I was born in Portugal, where we came to live some 400 years ago, from the Rollo clan. Personally I care very much about Scotland and Scottish affairs and people. I even became a member of the Scottish National Party - number 1512633, European branch. I agree with the notion that Scottish Diaspora doesn't take much into consideration our nation, unlike the Irish Diaspora, and I wish things were different.
Let me congratulate you for this blog, keep it going!

Pedro Rollo


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