Academic journal article Southern Cultures

Scottish Heritage Southern Style

Academic journal article Southern Cultures

Scottish Heritage Southern Style

Article excerpt

During the past four decades, growing interest in Americans' cultural and ancestral ties to Scotland has produced hundreds of new clan and heritage societies and a steadily increasing number of Scottish Highland games. Scottish American ethnic awareness and organization has had other, briefer, periods of popularity in our nation's history. However, the growth of Scottish cultural groups and gatherings has proved most dramatic in the late-twentieth-century South, where a unique and distinctly regional style flavors events and perceptions of Scottish origins. Today, approximately half of all Scottish American societies base their associations in the South and more than one-third of the over two hundred annual Highland games/Scottish festivals occur in the region.(1)

The popularity of the Scottish-heritage movement in the South is partly due to its double celebration of a "reclaimed" Scottish ethnicity and its particular relationship to southern regional identity. Southern Scottish-heritage societies emphasize kinship and bill clan society activities as family reunions. Scottish Highland games in the South are more likely to have barbecue stands, fiddle competitions, and time designated for religious events. At southern games, singers perform the Scottish tune "Bonnie Dundee" with the Confederate lyrics "Riding a Raid," reenactors combine Confederate jackets and caps with their Scottish kilts, and bagpipe band renditions of "Dixie" leave crowds either cheering, in tears, or both.

American celebrations of Scottish heritage draw on romantic nineteenth-century interpretations of Highland manners and Scottish identity--a mythic Scottish past that in the South blends harmoniously with nostalgic visions of antebellum southern society and the Lost Cause. Celebratory and commemorative reflections on ancestral experience commonly merge historical realities, religious inheritance, and folk memories with selected (and often invented) traditions to interpret the past in a form meaningful for the present. Southerners take to the Scottish-heritage movement so well because its present form draws on parallel mythologies, rather than actual cultural continuities, that underlie the construction both Scottish and southern identifies. Both derive from perceived historical injuries, strong attachments to place and kin, and links between militarism and religious faith, and both have produced symbolic material cultures.

Scottish-heritage celebration in the South offers alternative interpretations of "southernness." In heritage lore, the southern experience and identity unfold in continuous tradition from Scottish culture and history, rather than from a relationship to slavery or Jim Crow. Members of the southern Scottish American community are of the generations that experienced desegregation and the reinvention of the new South. By attributing southern distinctiveness to Scottish roots, a post-Civil Rights movement celebration of "southernness" takes on an uncontroversial, multicultural dimension focused on ethnic identity rather than race relations. Mourning the Old South's defeat or displaying the Confederate baffle flag acquires less problematic meanings in the Scottish-heritage context. The "new southerner" involved in Scottish heritage is no longer just a white, Anglo southerner, but an ethnically Celtic southerner with other reasons for being different and unassailable justification for celebrating that difference.


The Scottish American community celebrates a conception of Scottishness engendered largely by the poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott long after the ancestors of many Scottish Americans had left Scotland. The celebrated heritage is that of one region of Scotland: the Highlands. How the Highlands came to represent the whole of Scotland is quite similar to the way in which plantation owners came to represent southerners generally. …

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