Warrior dreams: playing Scotsmen in mainland Europe, 1945 – 2010
Hesse, David Johannes
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At the beginning of the twenty first century, thousands of adult Europeans are playing Scotsmen. They dress up in kilts and tartan, parade in military-style bagpipe bands, toss tree trunks at Highland Games, commemorate Scottish soldiers of the past, and re-enact their vision of Scottish history at ‘Celtic’ and medieval fairs. Their largest festivals attract more than 25 000 people each year, and their more elaborate clubs are recognised by Scottish Clan chiefs. The ‘Scots’ of Europe do not usually claim to be Scottish – neither by birth, descent, or residence. Their performances are Scottish masquerades, and openly declared so. Unlike their cousins in North America and Australasia, the European impersonators only very rarely insist that their Scottish performances express their ‘ethnic’ identity. And yet, the European masquerade is a quest for roots and ancestors, too. This study demonstrates that by playing Scotsmen, the ‘Scots’ of Europe attempt to reconnect with their Celtic, Nordic, or otherwise pre-modern heritage. They feel that their own customs, songs, games, and tribes were lost to the forces of modernisation – but that some of it survived in the Scottish periphery. They employ Scotland as a site of memory, as ersatz history. This thesis is a study of European nostalgia. It examines the many men and women who attempt to rediscover their traditions and histories. It is concerned with what Jay Winter calls the ‘memory boom’; the growing public preoccupation with history and its remembrance. It argues that Scotland – or rather, dreams of Scotland – have a special resonance in the European memory boom. This study touches upon the fields of public history, memory, and festive culture. In order to understand how the past is remembered and re-imagined in Europe today, the author left the archive and questioned the commemorators. This study relies on original fieldwork conducted in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Scotland during 2009 and 2010. The thesis’ focus is a qualitative one.