Student: Isaiah Corso-Phinney
Advisor: Jeff Roche, Christina Welsch
During the mid-18th century to the early 19th century in Scotland, Highland cultural symbols such as the Kilt, Tartan, and bagpipes came to be symbols of Scottish national identity. This process, called Highlandism, came to represent a form of Scottish Nationalism. Highlandism was started by the Highland Regiments, who wore the Kilt and Tartan with their uniforms. Robert Burns, the national bard of Scotland, also promoted Highlandism with his sympathetic and egalitarian views of the Highlanders. Finally, the great Scottish Romantic novelist Sir Walter Scott cemented Highlandism with his Romantic stories of the Highlands while bringing it to the physical sphere by infusing Highland imagery in George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822. This was an ‘invention of tradition’ by the Scots who wanted to maintain cultural independence within the United Kingdom.
My project explores how such cultural symbols as the Kilt, Tartan, and bagpipes became associated with Scottish national identity. Those symbols were not native to the whole of Scotland. Rather, they came from the Scottish Highlands, a region in the northwest of the country. For a long time, the Highlands and its inhabitance were thought of as barbarians by the rest of the country. It was only until the mid-18th century that these opinions began to change. Through a period of about 70 years, the culture of the highlands was “rehabilitated” and came to be symbols for Scottish Nationalism. This movement was called Highlandism. My I.S. investigates how the raising of Highland regiments, military units that were composed of Highlanders, first started this transition of public perception. The project also looks at how influential Scottish writers Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott promoted Highlandism through their works. Burns through his poems that showed sympathy to the Highlanders and Scott through his Romantic works of Lady of the Lake and Waverly. In addition, Scott is important because he stage managed the visit of George IV and embedded Highland imagery throughout the king’s visit.
As a bagpiper myself, I was very much interested in Highland culture and how such Highland symbols came to be quintessentially Scottish. My interest only deepened when I had the opportunity to study abroad in Scotland at the University of Aberdeen in the Spring of 2019. It was with pride that I wear both my family tartan and the MacLeod tartan that the College of Wooster uses. However, it surprised me to find out that the Kilt, Tartan, and bagpipes were seen in a negative light for centuries. Why was this the case? Why were the Highlanders seen as barbarians in centuries past whereas now people all over the globe with Scottish ancestry look to the Tartan and sound of the pipes as symbols of their ancestor’s homeland? Questions like these spurred on my research and it has produced this work which sheds light on how Highlandism was triumphant.
Isaiah will be online to field comments on May 8:
4-6pm EDT (PST 1pm-3pm, Africa/Europe: late evening)