National Identity

Our trip to London and Edinburgh was an amazing travel experience. I felt my self-confidence mounting with every new food I tried and new street I explored on my own, and it was a great lesson in patience and preparedness – those necessary virtues for any traveler. However, as exciting as the actual travel was, we had to remember that it was also a study abroad experience…which means we couldn’t completely abandon the first four weeks of the class that we spent in our Wiekamp Hall classroom at IUSB. Thanks to our pre-departure intellectual preparation, it wasn’t only on paper in the classroom that I saw many of the trends in British culture that we discussed. Because we had learned about the commercialization and urbanization in the 18th century Britain, the rise of the middle class, the increase in tourism and other entertainments, and the political culture surrounding the union of England and Scotland, I discerned in modern London and Scotland elements of many of these Enlightenment-era social constructs. There seemed to be a particular thread that tied the past to the present, I think: national attitude. Through the written accounts that we read in class, I developed a sense that England and Scotland seemed to have their own particular personalities comprised of how the people of each country feel about themselves as a nation, and how they view their country in relation to other countries. After traveling there, I feel as though some of the most important elements of those national attitudes haven’t changed in the last 300-something years.

During the 1700s Enlightenment period, England became a leader in international trade and earned its place as a world power. This led to the development of a strong middle class comprised of tradesmen and craftsmen, and a general increase in the prosperity of the middle class. The intellectual culture of London hearkened back to Classical Greece and Rome, aided by the increase in manufacture of inexpensive books, coffee house culture where men could gather and discuss ideas, and an obsession with collecting and cataloguing by members of the middle and upper-middle class. This Classical movement was reflected in the arts, the fashions and the architecture of the city. All of these dramatic changes created a sort of national self-importance in the English population; they envisioned themselves as the modern Roman Empire, and a country that was superior to less “civilized” nations. Joseph Addison, the founder and co-author of the periodical publication entitled The Spectator, lauded the new commercial London in periodical #69, claiming that London was “a kind of emporium for the whole earth,” and that he felt like a “citizen of the world” when he visited the Royal Exchange. Writers like Hume, Johnson, and Dodsley wrote essays about the arts, the English language, and the newly established British Museum. They believed in the “heightened civilization” of the English, established through an escape from ignorance, the improvement of society thanks to the arts, and the desire for English to be spoken “properly,” that is, the same way in every English-speaking part of the world. England established colonies internationally, expanding her influence and establishing her sovereignty.

Scotland, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have quite such lofty goals. While Edinburgh was eventually nicknamed “the Athens of the North” because of its fashionable New Town and its vigorous intellectual culture, this was largely due to English influence. Elsewhere in Scotland, Scots just wanted to be left to their own devices. They had an established monarchy, long-held traditions, and a particular culture that they wanted to preserve, as a member of Scotland’s Peerage, Lord Belhaven, argued in his 1706 speech against

Stirling Castle; changed hands 13 times in 30 years in the fight over who was in charge of Scotland. Photo taken by me.

Stirling Castle; changed hands 13 times in 30 years in the fight over who was in charge of Scotland. Photo taken by me.

the union of England and Scotland. He was afraid of Scotland’s losing her own sovereignty, of “a free and independent Kingdom delivering up that, which all the World hath been fighting for since the Days of Nimrod.” He worried that Scottish people would lose their right to manage their own affairs, that they would be dragged down by English taxes and laws, that the Scottish nobility would be stripped of their powers…essentially, he claimed, those who agreed to the union were betraying their “Mother Caledonia” and all the rights and heritage that came with being Scottish. Regardless of Belhaven’s dissent, the union happened: England and Scotland became one nation, Great Britain, in 1707. Following the union, England seeped into Scotland; Englishmen like Robert Southey who jumped on the tourism wagon visited places like Edinburgh and Loch Katrine and looked down his nose at the parts of them that weren’t “English enough.” He called Edinburgh’s High Street “odd and characteristic,” and the closes that we found fascinating on the trip “Windes down which an English eye may look, but into which no English nose would willing venture” (granted, they probably did smell TERRIBLE with all the waste and smoke and refuse in the streets). He criticized the scenery in the Highlands, and though he scoffed at the Scots’ agricultural practices, he grudgingly admitted that with the increase in English homes replacing Highland cabins and the eradication of “wild beasts,” Scotland was “improving” and becoming more “civilized.”

Scotland, despite (or maybe because of) their partnership with England, has managed to retain a very strong national pride. Now, I don’t have anything against England and I absolutely loved it while I was there, but I tend to root for the underdogs. I’m no economist, so maybe the union was a good thing for Scotland that way, but based on what I learned over there, Scotland and England share a…friendly rivalry…and I think the thirst for independence is as strong as ever.

I had the fortune of being able to visit and compare the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland, and the first difference that glared out at me was the name of each establishment. The British

British Museum. Photo by me.

British Museum. Photo by me.

Museum and the National Museum of Scotland. The British Museum didn’t have any exhibits that focused directly on Britain or England itself; rather, there were huge exhibits on many geographical areas of the world, and England was lumped in with the Department of Prehistory and Europe. It contained many important, famous (albeit disputed) artifacts from around the world, establishing it as a leader in the world’s history museums. In the Scottish Museum, on the other hand, I strolled through six floors of Scottish history, from the earliest geological formations to modern culture. Yes, the NMS has international exhibits too, but a six-floor exhibit dedicated to the national culture is a pretty strong sign of a desire to continue cultivating an individual national identity. My favorite part of the exhibit was on the top floor, in the part about modern Scotland. There were a few seats in front of a big screen where I rested for a few minutes and watched a video on “what it means to be Scottish.” In a few very succinct sentences, people summed it up, using words like “friendly,” “gregarious,” “stubborn,”

National Museum of Scotland. Photo from Google Image Search.

National Museum of Scotland. Photo from Google Image Search.

“hardworking,” “passionate,” and “forthright.” Based on my experiences, these were all true; while in London people seemed to very much mind their own business, Scots would stop on the streets to talk to you, and they were loud when they were singing bar songs downstairs in Bar50… J When the participants in the video interview were asked whether they identified as Scottish or British, every single one of them said Scottish first, British second. One man on the video said that Scottish people have “rediscovered [their] national identity, and the best is yet to come.”

Another clue to the England-Scotland power dynamic was hidden in the sparkles of the Crown Jewels of each country. I had the good fortune to see both sets of Crown Jewels, and, while standing in line forever, to

English Crown Jewels. Photo from Google Image Search.

English Crown Jewels. Photo from Google Image Search.

read the information posted in the exhibits. The story of England’s Crown Jewels are pretty straightforward, except for the upheaval surrounding the execution of Charles I and the melting down of the symbols of royalty under the power of Cromwell. New ones were fashioned for the crowning of Charles II after the restoration of the monarchy. Scotland’s Honours, on the other hand, have an interesting history that further explains the country’s ongoing “good-natured” resentment toward the English. The earliest piece, and possibly most important, of Scotland’s set is a huge lump of unimpressive sandstone called either the Stone of Scone or the Stone of Destiny. The monarchs of Scotland were seated upon this stone when they were crowned; in fact, the Stone of Destiny predates the use of the crown in Scottish history. The use of the Stone symbolized a connection to the land and a loyalty to the Scottish heritage. England and Scotland have fought over this stone for something like 700 years; for a long time it was kept beneath the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey for use during English coronations. Some Scottish students stole the Stone in the 1950’s as a demonstration of Nationalist pride, and it was returned to England after about four months after being accidentally broken and fixed with a metal rod through the middle. It is rumored that a quote from the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath is inscribed

Scotland's National Honours. Photo from Google Image Search.

Scotland’s National Honours. Photo from Google Image Search.

upon that metal rod: “For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.” Of course, no one wants to snap open the Stone again to see if that’s true. As a gesture of goodwill, Queen Elizabeth II returned the Stone to Scotland in 1996 (generous?). The use of the other pieces of the Scottish National Honours was discontinued after the 1707 union, considered redundant (the English Jewels are sparklier…).

I learned these things from my tour guide, Mahrie, on my Wednesday tour to Loch Ness. She also spoke a little bit about the referendum last year, the vote to determine whether Scotland would become an independent nation or not. As we all know (hopefully), the vote was close, but the “no’s” won out and

A crowd supporting "Yes Scotland," the movement for independence. Photo from Google Image Search

A crowd supporting “Yes Scotland,” the movement for independence. Photo from Google Image Search

Scotland is still part of the UK. However, the call for independence remains strong, as it has for hundreds of years, and a big reason that people voted “no” was because of oil. Scotland produces a significant amount of oil that is worth plenty of money; unfortunately for them, it is in English control, and if they were to separate the two nations, they would lose out on a LOT of money. They are working on developing sustainable energy, though, so in the future, who knows…? Anyway, from both Mahrie and our Loch Katrine tour guide, Andrew, I picked up on some very strong national pride and some friendly prods directed toward the English. These sentiments are residual from hundreds of years of rivalry, and I have a feeling that they won’t end anytime soon.


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