Public commemorations of the Scottish Wars of Independence, 1800-1939
Harrison, Laura Signe Hushagen
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Marinell Ash famously referred to the latter half of the nineteenth century as experiencing a ‘strange death’ in interest in the Scottish historical past, but increasing evidence suggests this was not an entirely fair assessment. Rather than ‘dying’, interest in the past was expressed in ways beyond the club books, texts, and other antiquarian pursuits that were the focus of Ash’s work, and instead were taken up by more public displays of commemoration. This thesis examines the public commemorations of the medieval Scottish Wars of Independence, one of the more popular historical periods during the time Ash was referring to. By considering the types of commemorations dedicated to this conflict that were created during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, and how they changed over time, this thesis shows how identity was performed in Scotland during this period at local and national levels, as well as how events and figures from the Middle Ages could be sculpted to fit a variety of ambitions. The main empirical section of this thesis is divided into three chapters, which are dictated by the ways in which commemorations are interacted with by the public. The first chapter examines immovable commemorations: permanent, fixed features of the built environment. The commemorations in this chapter include monuments, murals, stained-glass windows, and other features on buildings, all of which have a (theoretical) permanence because they are in fixed locations. The second chapter is focused on intangible commemorations: the ceremonial aspects of commemoration, particularly anniversaries and the opening of monuments, which are the most performative types of commemoration. The final chapter is concerned with the movable paraphernalia of commemoration: those objects that could be passed between people or locations. This chapter examines texts (including club books, novels, song books, poetry, and chapbooks), paintings, and relics. This thesis sets the commemoration of the Wars of Independence against the changing political, religious, and cultural landscape of Scotland from 1800 to 1939. Placing the public at the centre of the study of these commemorative acts allows new insights into the importance of local history in the performance of identity, and the ways in which different sections of society engaged with commemorations. It also provides a framework that illustrates the benefits of undertaking an exhaustive study of the commemorations for one historical period. In this way, this thesis joins a growing field that recognises the value in how commemorations reveal contemporary attitudes. Significance does not require historical accuracy when it comes to acts of commemoration. During a period of widespread commemorative efforts for historical conflicts, as well as an increasing use of the medieval past from the full span of the political spectrum, this thesis is therefore well placed to demonstrate the potential effects of commemorating the medieval past in the present.
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