‘Great gathering of the clans’: Scottish clubs and Scottish identity in Scotland and America, c.1750-1832
McCaslin, Sarah Elizabeth
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The eighteenth century witnessed the proliferation of voluntary associations throughout the British-Atlantic world. These voluntary associations consisted of groups of men with common interests, backgrounds, or beliefs that were willing to pool their resources in order to achieve a common goal. Enlightenment Scotland was home to large numbers of clubs ranging from small social clubs to large national institutions. The records of these societies suggest that most, if not all, of the men who formed them believed that defining and performing Scottish identity was important to preserving the social and cultural traditions of Scottishness in the absence of state institutions. These patriotic associations followed Scots across the Atlantic and provided the model for similar clubs in the American colonies. This thesis examines the construction and performance of Scottish identity by Scottish clubs in Scotland and America from c.1750-1832. It, in contrast to the existing historiography of Scottish identity, asserts that associations were vehicles through which Scottish identity was constructed, expressed, and performed on both sides of the Atlantic. It demonstrates that clubs provided Scots with the tools to manufacture identities that were malleable enough to adapt within a wide variety of political and cultural environments. This was particularly important in a period that witnessed major political disruption in the shape of the American and French Revolutions. By directly comparing Scottish societies in both Scotland and America, the thesis also reassesses and revises common attitudes about the relationship between Scottish identities at home and in the wider diaspora. Often seen as distinct entities, this thesis emphasises the similarities in the construction of Scottish identity, even in divergent national contexts. Drawing on a variety of sources ranging from rulebooks, minute books, and published transactions to memoirs, newspaper articles, letters, and even material goods, this thesis reveals that the Scottish identity constructed and performed by associations in America was no less ‘Scottish’ than that formulated in Scotland, indeed it paralleled and built upon the practices and attitudes developed in the home country. It rested on the same foundation, yet followed a different political trajectory as a result of the differing environment in which it was expressed and the different communities of Scots that expressed it. Indeed, the comparison between Scottish clubs in Scotland and America demonstrates that modern Scottish identity is the creation of a diasporic, transnational Scottish experience.