The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

NED C. LANDSMAN


7. The Foundations of Cosmopolitan Culture:
Scottish Involvement Abroad before the American
Colonisation

I feel like something of an intruder into the fields of sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Scotland and its European involvements (not to mention Medieval and Renaissance Language and Literature), since my principal subjects heretofore have all concerned the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nor have they involved Scotland and Europe, but rather Scotland and Britain, and Scotland and America. Still, it is not merely in self-defence that I will suggest that intrusions can have their advantages; the long view, it has often been shown, allows one to look beyond purely temporary circumstances to establish those features of a society or culture that appear to be integral rather than circumstantial; in short, that function as its structural foundations. For some time, I have been attempting to comprehend Scotland’s quite distinctive manner of participation in the British empire in the eighteenth century and after against the background of earlier Scottish enterprises abroad. We are now developing quite an extensive literature on those foreign involvements; to date, that literature has done surprisingly little to alter our basic understanding of Scottish history in the early modern period.

I happen to believe, along with others, that one of the chief deficiencies in our understanding of my period of eighteenth-century Scotland, as it currently exists, is the lack of an adequate historical context for comprehending the very real changes that Scottish culture underwent during the age of Enlightenment, which has too often been understood as the exclusive product of eighteenth-century developments such as the Union and English influences. That is currently being remedied by some very able scholars in a number of fields, including, among intellectual historians, religion, political theory, and philosophy, who have demonstrated, for example, the vital influence of Scottish Renaissance and Presbyterian traditions upon the Enlightenment.1 What I would like to offer here represents what might be called the under-side of that cultural history, the foundations of Scottish cosmopolitan culture, which was rooted in what came to be very real economic and demographic, but also political and cultural imperatives that developed within Scottish society and culture during a long history of involvement abroad. Those foundations, which developed principally out of Scottish contacts with Europe, would continue to shape Scottish culture long

1 Two useful collections that develop this theme are The Origins and Nature of the Scottish Enlightenment, ed. R.H. Campbell and Andrew S. Skinner (Edinburgh, 1982) and Aberdeen and the Enlightenment, ed. Jennifer J. Carter and Joan H. Pittock (Aberdeen, 1987).

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The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993
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