Scotland Popular Culture Essay
What is it that makes the Scots Scottish? And if you think of Scotland or its inhabitants what is the first thing that springs to mind? The history and the clans perhaps? The beautiful landscape? The castles? The bagpipes? The Highland Games? Or is it whisky? Fact is that you are likely to find some unique features in Scotland and its people that you won’t find easily, and originally, anywhere else in the world. For most outsiders Scotland is about clans, battles, kilts, tartan etc. It must be said though that this image is up to a certain point valid for the Highland-Gaelic area but doesn’t include the lowlands of Scotland although most people, and specially the tourist agents, want us to belief that. But let’s start with the typical images some of us have and deal with the other things that make the Scots Scottish later.
Many years ago the ruggedness of the land led to the separation of the Highlanders into small groups called clans. Each clan was ruled by a chief, and the members of a clan claimed descent from a common ancestor. The traditional garment of the Highland clansmen is the kilt (belted plaid), which is suitable for climbing the rough hills. Each clan had its own colourful pattern for weaving cloth and these patterns are called a tartan. Nowadays the kilt is no longer a historic dress but a national costume, proudly worn for special occasions such as weddings etc. I have heard that there are currently over 4,500 different tartans and you can even have your own tartan if you like. Visit one of the many Woollen Mills you’ll find all over Scotland for some tartan related products. The most renowned one is probably the Edinburgh Woollen Mill at the beginning of the Royal Mile.
The clans aren’t something from the past, they are still here today. Currently there are more than 500 active clans registered all over the world and they all play an important role in maintaining and celebrating the Scottish traditions. There are annually more than 100 gatherings of the clans, which draw many visitors to the Highlands.
At the last census of 2011 there were almost 60,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland, mostly confined to the Gaelic Heartland, the Outer Hebrides, and the other Hebridean Islands and the north-west coast. Although the language is in decline, there are many efforts to keep the Gaelic language and culture alive. Many schools in the west of Scotland either have a Gaelic unit or teach Gaelic as a second language. The Royal National Mòd is a celebration of the Gaelic language and culture and is held annually in the west and north of Scotland.
Despite their name, Highland Games are held all over Scotland, From Spring To late Autumn: they vary in size and differ in the range of events they offer, and although the most famous are at Oban, Cowal and especially Braemar, often the smaller ones are more fun.
The Highland Games probably originated in the fourteenth century as a means of recruiting the best fighting men for the clan chiefs, and were popularised by Queen Victoria to encourage the traditional dress, music, games and dance of the highlands, various royals still attend the games at Braemar.
The most distinctive events are know as the heavies tossing the caber, putting the stone, and tossing the weight over the bar, all of which require prodigious strength and skill. Tossing the caber is the most spectacular and the most well known event in the highland games, when the athlete must run carrying an entire tree trunk and attempt to heave is end over end in a perfect, elegant throw.
Just as important as the sporting events are the piping competitions for individuals and bands and dancing competitions where you will see young children tripping the quick, intricate steps of such traditional dances as the Highland fling.
When on holiday in Scotland the Highland games should not be missed and will give you a great insight of Scottish traditions, and leave you with many memories of a great day.
At formal occasions the Scots proudly wear their Highland Dress which consists of a kilt and other pieces of clothing depending on the occasion. The Scottish kilt is usually worn with kilt hose (woollen socks), turned down at the knee, often with garter flashes, and a sporran (a type of pouch), which hangs around the waist from a chain or leather strap. This may be plain or embossed leather, or decorated with sealskin, fur, or polished metal plating. Other accessories which are often used are a belt with embossed buckle, Argyll jacket, a kilt pin and a black knife worn in the top of the right hose.
Scotland is often associated with bagpipes but the interesting fact is that bagpipes aren’t originally from Scotland. Bagpipes originate from southern Europe and appear in Scotland around 1400 AD. The Scottish Bagpipe, or Great Highland Bagpipe, became established in the British military and achieved the widespread prominence it enjoys today, whereas other bagpipe traditions throughout Europe, ranging from Spain to Russia, almost universally went into decline by the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though widely famous for its role in military and civilian pipe bands, the Great Highland Bagpipe is also used for a solo virtuosic style called pibroch. If you’re interested you can visit the annual Glasgow International Piping Festival which is held in August.
Now that I have written about the image most tourists have of Scotland it’s time to realise that Scots are also just people like you and me and are not running around over the hills in kilts all day. They are a usually very friendly bunch and are fortunate to live in a beautiful country of which they are very proud of, and for a good reason I might add. The rich history, the unpredictable climate and the dramatic landscape plays an important part in daily life, specially if you consider that many Scots earn their living in the tourism industry.
Food and Drink
Haggis is Scotland’s national dish, although a good curry comes in second and for some even in the first place. Haggis is a dish containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours. If it’s prepared properly it’s a real treat! Haggis is traditionally served with the Burns supper at January 25th or thereabouts, when Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, is commemorated. He wrote the poem Address to a Haggis, which starts “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!” and is usually proceeded by a piper.
Apart from the Haggis, Scotland has many other delicious dishes on offer and one of the most bizarre things you can buy in some Scottish fish and chip shops are, besides fish and chips of course, deep fried mars bars. Whether this is a treat or not I’m not sure, fact is that they are not good for your health but seem to taste surprisingly well! If you want to try something different go for an Arbroath Smokie, a specially smoked type of Haddock and the name is protected by EU regulations. Arbroath Smokies originate in Auchmithie, a small fishing village a few miles north of Arbroath, on the Scottish east coast. If you think whisky is the only national drink you’re wrong. There is also Irn-Bru, a carbonated fruit flavoured soft drink, which also carries the title of Scottish National Drink, or perhaps better the “other” national drink. Another typical Scottish thing is Shortbread, a buttery biscuit, available almost anywhere and specially in the tourist shops! Read more in our Scottish Food Guide.
If you are staying in Scotland you are likely to hear about a ceilidh, specially if you stay in the more traditional Highland hotels or smaller villages. A ceilidh is a traditional Gaelic social gathering, usually held in village halls and hotels, and involves playing folk music and dancing and this is very much the case today. In the old days it was literary entertainment where stories and tales were rehearsed and recited, and songs were sung. A ceilidh can be good fun and entertaining and you can also work on your traditional Scottish dances which come in many forms and paces to suite both the young and the old. Attending one is a must when you are holidaying in Scotland.
After you’ve spent the Friday or Saturday evening partying at a ceilidh or visited one of the many pleasant pubs and bars you are likely to find out on Sunday that religion plays an important part in Scotland. The Scottish Presbyterians is the official, as well as the largest, church in the country. The Church of Scotland, as it is called, claims the adherence of nearly half the population. Roman Catholics, particularly strong in the western Highlands, make up the second-largest group of worshippers. After the church visit on Sunday morning you’ll find out something that isn’t at all common in other European countries, the Sunday Paper. Don’t be surprised when visiting a local shop in the Highlands that around two o’clock it suddenly becomes very crowded. The reason for that is the arrival of the Sunday Paper, bought by many and often accompanied with a (wee) bottle of the national drink! While most of the readers go back home, others regard this as an opportunity to visit the local pub and meet their friends.
For many (overseas) tourists Scotland is renowned for being the “Home of Golf” and many visitors are very keen to play the famous links at St. Andrews in Fife. For the Scots themselves soccer is the national passion and beating England the most important goal, and this is not only in soccer… Also famous in soccer is “The Old Firm”, a common collective name for Celtic and Rangers, both football clubs from Glasgow. Whereas Celtic’s fans are mostly catholic, the Rangers fans are mostly protestant. The competition between the two clubs is fierce and often leads to violence between rivalling supporters, not only on match day. Both teams usually meet four times a year in the Scottish Premier League. Other popular sports include hill-walking, rugby, shinty, lawn-bowling, fishing, darts and curling. The island of Ailsa Craig, off the Ayrshire coast, provides the special granite for most of the curling stones.
It’s hard to write everything down that’s related to Scottish Culture, otherwise it would become an endless page. You will find that much of the Scottish culture and traditions are saved in the many festivals that are held annually, all over the country and all year round and perhaps especially during Hogmanay. The best thing to do is go out there, spend some time in one place, visit the pubs and ceilidhs, experience some of the festivals and other events and try to get to know the locals a bit better. That’s how you discover for yourself what the Scots and their culture are all about and you will be pleasantly surprised.
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This index lists, and links to, articles, essays, conference papers and other material on Scottish literature and language available free on-line.
In the index, articles are listed by author, and by subject or title. The names of authors of articles are in CAPITALS. Subjects of articles (including names of writers) are in bold. Bulleted items are written by the same author(s), or about the same subject, as the entries they follow. The first link in an entry is to the text of the paper. The second link is to the journal or conference page where the paper was published or presented. Some links lead to other sites; these will open in a new window.
You can search the index using the Find function (under the Edit menu). If you have trouble connecting to any of these papers, or if you would like to recommend a link, please contact ASLS.
A [back to top]
ABRAHAMSON, ROBERT LOUIS: 'Lived In Books', Textualities, 2005
ACKER, KATHY: 'Public Interview with Alasdair Gray at the ICA, London', 1986 (transcript on Alasdair Gray's website)
ÀGÙSTSDÒTTIR, INGIBJÖRG: 'Mary Queen of Scots as Feminine and National Icon: Depictions in Film and Fiction', Études Écossaises 15, 2012
Alasdair, Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir - see Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, Alasdair
ALISON, JIM: 'Burns in School', Laverock 3, 1997
ALTUN, ALI: 'John McGrath: an Anti-Class-based System Playwright', a paper presented at ESSE 2012, published on the ASLS website.
ANDERSON, CAROL: 'An Interview with Alasdair Gray', with Glenda Norquay, Cencrastus, January 1983 (transcript on Alasdair Gray's website)
ANDERSON, LIN: 'Bloodyminded in Bloody Scotland', The Bottle Imp 14, Fall 2013
ANDREWS, COREY E.: '"Ev'ry Heart can Feel": Scottish Poetic Responses to Slavery in the West Indies, from Blair to Burns', International Journal of Scottish Literature 4, Autumn/Winter 2008
ARATA, STEPHEN D.: 'The Sedulous Ape: Atavism, Professionalism and Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde', Criticism, Spring 1995
ARBUTHNOTT, GILL: 'Tales of the Unexpected: Gill Arbuthnott on the gestation, writing and publication of her novel The Chaos Clock', Textualities, 2005
Art - see Visual Art
ASHLEY, KATHERINE: '"Ae Thoosand Tongues": Language and Identity in Psychoraag', International Review of Scottish Studies 36, 2011
ATTEBERY, LOUIE W.: 'Take the High Road: a review of Colin Manlove's Scottish Fantasy Literature: a critical survey', Science Fiction Studies 72, July 1997
Auger, Peter: 'How Scottish is the Scottish Psalter? William Mure of Rowallan, Zachary Boyd, and the Metrical Psalter of 1650', Studies in Scottish Literature 40/1, 2014
Australian New Wave
AYTON, JAMES: 'Sir Robert Ayton - The Last Castalian Time for a Reappraisal', Studies in Scottish Literature 33/1, 2004
Ayton, Sir Robert
B [back to top]
BAILEY, JAMES: '"What a story it could be": Identity and Narrative Strategy in Ali Smith's Like', James Bailey, Forum 11, Autumn 2010
BAILEY, PEGGY DUNN: 'Words of Fire: Mrs. M. A. Reid's The Harp of Salem', Alexander Street Press 2002, available on the Scottish Women Poets of the Romantic Period website
BAKER, ROSEMARY: 'John McNeillie's Wigtown Ploughman', Textualities, 2005
BAKER, STEPHEN: 'The Fetish of the New: Culture and Class in Alasdair Gray's Something Leather', The Glasgow Review, issue 3
BAKER, TIMOTHY C.: 'Ian Macpherson's Writing of the Disaster', International Review of Scottish Studies 33, 2008
BALINISTEANU, TUDOR: 'Dreaming Brokenly of Deaths by Fire: Deconstructions of Social Myths in A.L. Kennedy's Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains', Postgraduate English 11, March 2005
BARBALET, JACK M: ' WJ and Robert Louis Stevenson: the Importance of Emotion', Streams of William James 3/3, 2001 [PDF file – requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]
Barrie, Sir James
BARRON, CHARLES: 'Doric Drama', published on the Elphinstone Kist website
BARROWMAN, CAROLE E.: 'The Dark Threads of Tartan Noir', originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 24, 2004, available on Carole Barrowman's website
BATEMAN, MEG: 'Gaelic Poetry for English Classes?', Laverock 3, 1997
BECK, ANDRÁS: 'A Stage of One's Own: The Artistic Devolution of Contemporary Scottish Theatre', International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen 5-1, 2012
BECK, SARAH: 'Playing War: Encountering Soldiers and Navigating Ethical Responsibilities in the Creation of Black Watch', International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen 6-1, 2013
BEHRENDT, STEPHEN C.: 'Catherine George Ward (1787- late 1830s)', Alexander Street Press 2002, available on the Scottish Women Poets of the Romantic Period website
BELL, BARBARA: 'Meg Dods – Before the Curtain' (with John Ramage), International Journal of Scottish Theatre, 1/2, 2000
BENSKE, KARLA: '"Diabolus Ex Machina": Manipulation and Masterly Intrigue in James Kennaway's Some Gorgeous Accident', e-Sharp, Autumn 2003
BENSON, C. DAVID: 'Critic and Poet: What Lydgate and Henryson Did to Chaucer's "Troilus and Criseyde"', Modern Language Quarterly, 53/1, March 1992 [PDF file – requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]
BERTON, DANIÈLE: 'Mr Placebo d'Isabel Wright: de l'art de l'illusion et de l'expérimentation en un "théâtre d'opérations"', Études Écossaises 12, 2009
BERTON, JEAN: 'Esquisse d'un paysage ontologique dans A Highland Trilogy de Kenneth Steven', Études Écossaises 10, 2005
BERTONÈECHE, CAROLINE: 'On Walking in Burns's "Great Shadow": Keats's Scottish Heritage', Études Écossaises 15, 2012
Berwick, Thurso - see Blythman, Morris
BESSON, CYRIL: 'Les Utopies adolescentes de Robert Louis Stevenson', Études Écossaises 11, 2008
BEST, VICTORIA: 'The Drama of the Mind: A Profile of Janice Galloway', Numéro Cinq magazine, August 2015
BICKET, J. LINDEN: 'George Mackay Brown's "Celia": The Creative Conversion of a Catholic Heroine', Studies in Scottish Literature 40/1, 2014
BIGNALL, JONATHAN: 'John McGrath and the Dialogues of Television Studies', International Journal of Scottish Theatre, 3/2, 2002
BISSETT, ALAN: 'Damage Land Revisited: Scottish Gothic in the Noughties', The Bottle Imp 6, Fall 2009
BLACK, D. M.: '"How Shall the Race be Served?": The Life of Edwin Morgan', The Dark Horse 26, Winter/Spring 2011 [PDF file – requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]
BLACK, RONALD: 'A Scottish Grammatical Tract, c.1640', Celtica vol 21, 1990 [PDF file – requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]
BLAIR, KIRSTIE: 'McGonagall, 'Poute', and the Bad Poets of Victorian Dundee', The Bottle Imp 14, Fall 2013
Bochanan, Dùghall - see Buchanan, Dugald
BOLD, VALENTINA: 'On Editing The Merry Muses', Robert Burns and Friends: Essays by W. Ormiston Roy Fellows Presented to G. Ross Roy
BONNAR, ANNE: 'The Art of Business Innovation: The Citizens' Theatre under the Directorship of Giles Havergal', International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen 5-1, 2012
BOOTH, GORDON: ' The Kirk and the Leid', published on the GKB Enterprises website
BORTHWICK, DAVID: '"Driven by Loneliness and Silence": John Burnside's Susceptible Solitaries', The Bottle Imp 12, Fall 2012
BOUCHER, FRANÇOIS-EMMANUËL: 'Thomas Carlyle et le culte du Héros aux époques de paralysie spirituelle', Post-Scriptum, 10, 2009 [PDF file – requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]
BOWMAN, MARTIN: 'Trainspotting in Montreal: the dramatic version', International Journal of Scottish Theatre, 1/1, 2000
BRADLEY, JOSEPH M: 'Scottishness in the Tartan Army', The Bottle Imp 10, Fall 2011
BRAIDWOOD, ALISTAIR: 'We're All Henry Jekyll's Bairns: Robert Louis Stevenson's Enduring Influence on Scottish Literature', The Bottle Imp 12, Fall 2012
BRANCH, LORI: 'Plain Style, or the High Fashion of Empire: Colonialism, Resistance and Assimilation in Adam Smith's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres', Studies in Scottish Literature 33/1, 2004
BRESLIN, THERESA: 'Scotland as Source: Personal Reflections by Theresa Breslin', The Bottle Imp 7, Spring 2010
BROWN, ANDY: 'Robin Robertson's Swithering: a review', Stride Magazine, December 2005
Brown, George Mackay - see Mackay Brown, George
BROWN, IAN: 'Cultural centrality and dominance: the creative writer's view - conversations between Scottish poet/playrights and Ian Brown', International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen 4-1, 2011
BROWN, RHONA: 'Memorialising the Death and Legacy of Robert Fergusson: Romantic Sympathy and Enlightenment Medical Improvement', The Bottle Imp 15, Spring 2014
BROWN, SIMON: '"Anywhere but Scotland"? Transnationalism and New Scottish Cinema', International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen 4-1, 2011
BUCHANAN, DAVID: 'Scott Squashed: Chapbook Versions of The Heart of Mid-Lothian', Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 56, November 2009
BUDGE, GAVIN: 'The Hero as Seer: Character, Perception and Cultural Health in Carlyle', Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 52, November 2008
BURGESS, MOIRA: 'Dot Allan: a Glasgow woman novelist', ScotLit 19, 1998
BURKE, ALISON: 'Totalitarianism, Martyrdom and Social Resistance: Sarah Woods' Antigone', International Journal of Scottish Theatre, 2/1, 2001
Bury, Lady Charlotte
BUTLER, LISA: '"that damned old business of the war in the members": The Discourse of (In)Temperance in Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde', Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 44, November 2006
BUTTER, PETER: 'The Strengths and Weaknesses of Robert Falconer', North Wind: Journal of the George MacDonald Society 14, 1995
BUZWELL, GREG: 'Gothic fiction in the Victorian fin de siècle: mutating bodies and disturbed minds', on the British Library's Romantics and Victorians website
Byron, Lord George Gordon
BYRNE, MICHEL: 'Tails o the Comet? MacLean, Hay, Young and MacDiarmid's Renaissance', ScotLit 26, 2002
C [back to top]
CALMAN, SIR KENNETH: 'The Citadel by A. J. Cronin', The Bottle Imp 15, Spring 2014
CAMBRIDGE, GERRY: 'Douglas Dunn in Conversation', The Dark Horse 8, Autumn 1999 [PDF file – requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]
CAMERON, DAVID: 'The Printed Snow: On W.S. Graham', The Dark Horse 18, Summer 2006 [PDF file – requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]
Campbell, Charlotte Susan Maria - see Bury, Lady Charlotte
CAMPBELL, DONALD: 'Greenness in Every Line: the drama of George Mackay Brown', International Journal of Scottish Theatre, 1/1, 2000
Campbell, Dorothea Primrose
CAMPBELL, IAN: 'David Masson and Thomas Carlyle', Studies in Scottish Literature 40/1, 2014
CANITZ, A. E. CHRISTA: 'A Benefice for the Prophet: William Dunbar's Petitionary Poems', Studies in Scottish Literature 33/1, 2004
CARBONI, PIERRE: 'Le paradigme newtonien et les soubresauts du vivant dans The Seasons de James Thomson', Études Écossaises 12, 2009
Caribbean see Scotland and the Caribbean
CARPENTER, SARAH: 'David Lyndsay and George Buchanan: contrasts in reforming theatre', International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen 5-2, 2012
CARRUTHERS, GERARD: 'Alternative religious spaces in the work of Robert Burns', Open House, December 2012
CASARES, ALLYSON J.: 'The Effect of Book-Banning on Child Culture: A Close Look at the Harry Potter Series', The Looking-Glass, 8/3, 2004
CASSIDY, GARY: 'Psychological Liminality in Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World of Dissocia', International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen 6-1, 2013
CASTRICANO, JODEY: 'Much Ado about Handwriting: Countersigning with the Other Hand in Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 44, November 2006
Cavendish, Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire
CHAN-CHU, MURIEL: 'Trainspotting au théâtre: une adaption culturelle', Post-Scriptum, 3, 2004 [PDF file – requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]
CHARLOT, JOHN: 'The Influence of Polynesian Literature and Thought on Robert Louis Stevenson', The Journal of Intercultural Studies 14, 1987, available via John Charlot's website[PDF file – requires Adobe Acrobat Reader]