Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South

Article excerpt

Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South. By Celeste Ray. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. Pp. v, 256. Preface, acknowledgments, introduction, appendix, glossary, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95, cloth; $16.95, paper.)

Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South deals with the creation and perpetuation of the mythology of Scottish Highland heritage. While the emphasis is on Scottish heritage enthusiasts in the American South, the process of myth-making discussed by Ray actually began in Victorian England where the romantic image of the chivalric, doomed Scottish Highlander was born. Once transported to the American South, Ray asserts, it took firm hold by blending with "lost cause," "moonlight and magnolias" mythology arising from the Civil War and Reconstruction. Indeed, one of Ray's principal goals is to demonstrate how these two disparate myth systems commingled to produce contemporary American notions of a dual Scottish-Confederate heritage.

Ray makes it clear that Highland Heritage is not a work of history, and no historian would disagree with that assertion. Ray is, in fact, derisive of historians and their troubling tendency to debunk theories and paradigms that lack supporting evidence. "In this study, myths are powerful accounts that effectively and meaningfully explain the customs and beliefs of the Scottish American community and are set forth as facts" (p. 16). Thus, the task Ray sets herself is to describe a process whereby the combination of Victorian England's fascination with the mythologized Scot and the broad acceptance of this image in the United States has produced in Scottish heritage enthusiasts a powerful nostalgia for a people that never were and a place that never was. Ray is thus concerned with how notions of Highland heritage, however fanciful and ahistorical, have supplied the impetus for a cultural movement that motivates adherents in both the United States and Scotland to gather in large groups, don tartans, play bagpipes, and participate in sporting and other events in celebration of their invented legacy.

While Ray evinces little respect for or interest in actual Scottish history except insofar as it has been "renegotiated" into heritage lore, she does present the facts. She notes that while heritage lore stresses the Scottish defeat at Culloden in 1746 as the end of the Highland clan system and holds that this resulted in a Highland diaspora, the facts are different. The clan system was already in serious decline by that time (partly due to policies pursued by the Stuart dynasty for which the Highlanders fought). After Culloden, as many Lowlanders (who supported the Hanoverians and fought against the Highlanders) emigrated as Highlanders did. Even the tartans worn by modern "Scots" and the modern Highland games celebrated throughout the United States lack clear origins in actual Scottish history.

Despite the lack of an actual historical basis, Ray asserts, the growth of interest in Scottish heritage since the 1950s has been phenomenal. …

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