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Transatlantic Scots

Transatlantic Scots

by Celeste Ray (Editor), James Hunter (Foreword by), Margaret Bennett (Contribution by), Edward J. Cowan (Contribution by), Paul Basu (Contribution by)

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Examines the impact of the Scottish legacy on North American cultures and heritage.

During the past four decades, growing interest in North Americans' cultural and ancestral ties to Scotland has produced hundreds of new Scottish clan and heritage societies.  Well over 300 Scottish Highland games and gatherings annually take place across the U.S. and Canada.&


Examines the impact of the Scottish legacy on North American cultures and heritage.

During the past four decades, growing interest in North Americans' cultural and ancestral ties to Scotland has produced hundreds of new Scottish clan and heritage societies.  Well over 300 Scottish Highland games and gatherings annually take place across the U.S. and Canada. 

Transatlantic Scots is a multidisciplinary collection that studies the regional organization and varied expressions of the Scottish Heritage movement in the Canadian Maritimes, the Great Lakes, New England, and the American South. From diverse perspectives, authorities in their fields consider the modeling of a Scottish identity that distances heritage celebrants from prevalent visions of whiteness. Considering both hyphenated Scots who celebrate centuries-old transmission of Scottish traditions and those for whom claiming or re-claiming a Scottish identity is recent and voluntary, this book also examines how diaspora themes and Highland imagery repeatedly surface in regional public celebrations and how traditions are continually reinvented through the accumulation of myths. The underlying theoretical message is that ethnicity and heritage survive because of the flexibility of history and tradition. 

This work is a lasting contribution to the study of ethnicity and identity, the renegotiation of history and cultural memory into heritage, and the public performance and creation of tradition.


Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Anthropologist Ray (Univ. of the South) has assembled an impressive collection of essays that offer a comprehensive, insightful view of Scottish ethnicity in North America. The compilation reaches across academic boundaries, combining regional histories of institutional Scottish ethnicity in Canada and the southern US with anthropological analysis and interdisciplinary scholarship. The essays also cover a wide ideological spectrum in their discussion of the reasons behind the contemporary resurgence of expatriate interest in Scottish heritage, ranging from Andrew Hook's attribution of regional racism in the southern US to Ray's focus on interracial participation in Scots American festivities. The collection's most significant contribution comes through Ray's acknowledgement of expatriate creativity. This insight frees contributors from a pedantic fixation on authenticity and encourages them to address deeper issues such as the rise of Scottish heritage tourism, gender constraints at Highland games, and the establishment of Tartan Day in the US. The collection transcends the simple debate over the merits of Scottish ethnicity to address the more profound questions regarding its nature. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries."

Transatlantic Scots is a sophisticated theoretical treatment written in a lively and readable style. . . . This is a terrific collection.” —Sydel Silverman, City University of New York

"A first-generation study of this key phenomenon.  Its innovative and contemporary analysis fills a gaping hole within the broad core continuum of circum-Atlantic ethnicity and makes a major contribution to the study of transnational heritage and cultural memory. Words like vigorous, rare, and convergent describe this book."—Martha Ward, University of New Orleans

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University of Alabama Press
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6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.30(d)

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Transatlantic Scots

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2005 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-5240-0

Chapter One

Transatlantic Scots and Ethnicity

Celeste Ray

In the last half century, amid the growing discourse about globalization, the concept of "ethnicity" has supplanted other ways in which we used to describe human differences. Many scholars, and the media, seem to consider this innovative. While concern about ethnic divides on the global scale may be new, multiethnic societies are not-the first state-level societies of the Middle East were multiethnic. Interethnic relations and assimilation have likewise been a concern of state governments since their beginnings. Joshua Fishman notes that attempts to instill a sense of shared identity, rather than multiple ethnicities, has "definite Alexandrian ... Roman ... Western Christian ... and Islamic precursors" (1985, 494), to which we could add Chinese and South and Central American examples as well. Yet today, less than 10 percent of nation-states are anything close to ethnically homogeneous. Ethnic differences within societies have simply taken on a different importance in post-Enlightenment times-once nation-states began to overtly embrace the notion of meritocracy; since scholars began studying power differentials relating to class, race, and gender; and perhaps after sociologists and anthropologists, among others, began investigatingethnicity as a phenomenon. Some of the interest in ethnic diversity across Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and North America relates to critiques of colonialism (and the irony of the same when immigration from former colonies impacts the societies of former colonizers). For scholars in the United States, a significant factor in our interest in ethnicity is not merely our changing expectations of immigrants (evolving from models of assimilation to pluralism to multiculturalism), but America's superpowerdom.

Partly in response to demographic changes with the immigration reform bill in 1965, and certainly by the mid-1970s, ethnicity became interesting. Heritage tourism to ancestral homelands, ethnic celebrations, and an interest in ethnic music, foodways, and material culture have become an increasingly accepted part of American life. Marilyn Halter notes that when Congress passed the Ethnic Heritage Act in 1974 to support the funding of initiatives that promote the distinctive cultures and histories of the nation's ethnic populations, the philosophy of cultural pluralism had become the "reigning paradigm" at the highest levels of government (2000, 5). Spurred by America's bicentennial celebrations and books such as Alex Haley's Roots, genealogy is now one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the United States. Even those whose families have been in America for over three hundred years are looking for origins and "reclaiming" what they perceive as ancestral traditions from nations where they would never be considered "hyphenated" or anything other than American.

This chapter considers the meaning of ethnicity in scholarly and popular consciousness and how it relates to Scottish Americans. Eighteenth-century Scottish immigrants were unquestionably ethnic in colonial America; are their descendants ethnic today?

Ethnicity, Symbolic Ethnicity, and Race

So, what is ethnicity? The idea of ethnicity comes from the Greek ethnos, meaning "people" or "nation." Herodotus flexibly described the Ionians, Dorians, Ephesians, and Kolophonians as ethne according to what festivals they celebrated, their mythic genealogies tracing group origins to an eponymous ancestor, shared language or dialect, and sometimes residence (Hall 1997). Today, anthropologists likewise define ethnic groups as having shared customs, religious practices, linguistic traditions, geographical origins, and, sometimes, common descent. Ethnic groups might also exhibit similar inheritance patterns and gender roles. After Frederik Barth (1969; 2000), anthropologists studying ethnicity look for recognized social boundaries between groups and describe "ethnic boundary markers" (possession of a distinctive language or dialect; a particular style of dress, music, cuisine, and religious expression), although no one of these alone defines an ethnic group. Membership in an ethnic group may relate to kinship and descent, but not always. Even when a belief in shared ancestry is involved in ethnic identity formation, it can be what anthropologists call "fictive kinship," and it is often mythic. As George De Vos noted, while ethnic identities can be "past-oriented," the actual history "often trails off into legend or mythology" (1975, 8-9; see also Ardener 1989 and Cannadine 2002). Ethnic groups may relate to residence, but when speaking of an ethnic group as a "community" today, we more often mean Benedict Anderson's sense of an imagined community with geographically dispersed members (1983).

Ethnic identities evolve over time and, far from being "primordial," are often quite voluntary. When an ethnic identity is claimed, those who assert it form an ethnic group. When an ethnic identity is imposed from the outside (generally on a minority group), it is an ethnic category. Occasionally an ethnic category goes through "ethnogenesis" and becomes an ethnic group-as with the labels "Hispanic" or "Latino." In eighteenth-century America, "Scottish" was an ethnic category. The ethnonym "Scotch-Irish" (Scots-Irish) was first employed to distinguish Patriot Ulster Scots from Highland Scots (mostly Loyalists) and later to distinguish between Protestant Scots from Ulster and the Catholic "Famine Irish." The American development of this ethnic group is another kind of ethnogenesis. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, "Scots-Irish" was an "emergent ethnicity." The Scottish-American ethnic group of today may be called "resurgent," as its "ethnic identification, organization, or collective action is constructed around ... historical identities" (Nagel 1998, 260).

While many people may reject an ethnicity they learn as children, others actively embrace one their parents, grandparents, or more distant ancestors abandoned. Whether or not someone emphasizes an ethnic identity may depend on context (the home as opposed to the office; a religious holiday as opposed to a regular worship service). A person may hold more than one ethnicity simultaneously and play on overlapping sets of loyalties and multiple identities depending on the situation, the company, or one's goals and the prestige and power, or lack thereof, connoted by an identity (see Okamura 1981). The "situational selection of ethnic identity" has been a feature of anthropological studies since E. E. Evans-Pritchard's The Nuer (1940; in which Dinka become Nuer) and Edmund Leach's Political Systems of Highland Burma (1964; in which the Kachin become Shan) (Jacobson 1979, 437). Situational selection of ethnic identity can be different from what Herbert Gans (1979) and Richard Alba refer to as "'symbolic ethnicity,' a self-conscious attempt to 'feel ethnic,' to the exclusion of 'being ethnic'" (Alba 1990, 76). However, these ideas often relate in the Scottish heritage movement. One may emphasize one's Mexican ancestry on Mexican Independence Day or even Cinco de Mayo, and also learn a song in Gaelic or practice for competitions in Scottish athletics, but otherwise live a "non-ethnic" life. One might even dress to signify a personal creole combining a sombrero and a kilt. More recently Marilyn Halter has called such expressions of identity "convenience ethnicity," an identity expressed at festivals rather than something that is overt on a daily basis (2000, 9). Affiliating with an ethnic group voluntarily may involve acquiring ethnic shibboleths or rediscovering those devalued or discarded by one's ancestors.

Symbolic ethnicity is often a "nostalgic reclamation of an ethnic identity already lost." However, Richard Alba (1990), Mary Waters (1998), and Michael Hughey (1998) make a hyperbolic judgment when they claim that symbolic ethnicity categorically lacks any "reality," and that it is a "lightly worn aspect of personal identity" (Hughey 1998, 8). This denies the deep emotional investment people make in voluntary or "reclaimed" identities. While scholars may view ethnic identities as constructions or as symbolic, those who claim them often do perceive them as "primordial" or as "voices in the blood" (Gil-White 1999; Ray 2001, 13, 80-84). While those claiming a particular identity may not materially mark their ethnicity to outsiders on a daily basis, scholars cannot simply assume it is not incorporated as part of their worldview or that it is detached, or even tangential, to their daily, non-festival realities. What should be clear through discussion of empowered ethnic groups (contrasted with disempowered ethnic categories), of ethnogenesis, of emergent and resurgent ethnicities, of convenience and symbolic ethnicities, is that such identities are flexible and permeable. Ethnic identity is not set for all time. As a cultural phenomenon, ethnicity is dynamic, evolves over time, and is renegotiated in different contexts and periods (Barth 1969; Hannerz 1976; Aronson 1976; Binderman 1977; Keefe 1989; Hall 1990; Stern and Cicala 1991; Gillespie 1995; Ray 2001 and 2003). The relationship of ethnicity to other aspects of one's identity is also mutable. Currently, ethnicity is most often misassociated with "racial" identity.

Ethnicity does not mean "race." Members of different so-called races can and do belong to the same ethnic group. In the media and on government forms, the word "ethnicity" is incorrectly used interchangeably with "race." "Ethnicity" refers to cultural and social aspects of identity, not biological aspects or phenotype (physical appearance), which is the most common meaning of "race" in the United States. "Race" formerly connoted "kind" or "lineage" (Banks 1996, 162). It also used to be shorthand for culture, nation, language, or people, often in connection with the spurious idea that there could be any biological predisposition to cultural distinctiveness. In the nineteenth and even early twentieth century, "race" often referred to national or regional origins: "the Scottish race" or "the Highland race" or "the house and race of Douglas." With our different histories and experiences, the British, the Canadians, and Americans use the shared English term "race" quite differently. The British still frequently employ "race" in an antiquarian sense, often referring to nationality as well as to color, but color schemes are different in Britain than in the United States. People from India or the Middle East may be called "black" in Britain, when such a designation seems inappropriate to African Americans (see Bonilla-Silva 2003, 278). Based on cultural assumptions about physical appearance, "race" is socially constructed rather than biologically valid (see Harrison 1995 and Baker 1998). As a species, we are too evolutionarily recent to have discrete "racial" populations. (While physical human variation is arrayed on a continuum, it is impossible to disrupt that continuum into three or six or nine or more discrete groups as scholars such as Johann Herder [1744-1803] attempted to do in the Linnaean drive for classification.) We have only superficial markers on the human genome relating to aspects of appearance such as hair form and melanin production for skin and eye color, but not enough to distinguish separate subgroups one could call races. Social classifications of "race" focus predominantly on phenotype and have done so since the ancient Egyptians divided the world's people into "red" for Egyptian, "yellow" for people to the east, "white" for those to the north, and "black" for Africans from the south (Gossett 1963, 4). However, since the writings of the ancient Greeks, "ethnicity" has properly referred to identity and culture.

As we have become more aware of the repercussions of the idea of "race," through the horrors of the Nazi regime that sought to define society through racist ideology and through the struggles of the American civil rights movement to overcome racist practices (to name just two obvious examples), "ethnicity" has often been used as a more polite-or politically correct, but not actually correct-word when an author or speaker really means "race." Anthropologists began using the term in the 1970s instead of "tribal," when "tribal" became perceived as negative. "Tribal" implied "isolated, primitive-atavistic, and non-Western," while "ethnic" implies "nonisolated, contemporary and universally applicable" (R. Cohen 1978, 384; see also Jenkins 2002; wa Wamwere 2003, 20). Perhaps also in reaction to globalization today, scholars of many disciplines use "ethnic" or "ethnicity" when they might have employed "cultural" or "subculture" a quarter of a century ago. "Ethnicity" has come to mean distinctiveness, if variously defined. We may dismiss any biological validity of the race concept and distinguish ethnicity as a purely cultural form of identity, but this is not how either is discussed in the media or popular culture. As geographer Wilbur Zelinsky notes of ethnic groups, sometimes " cultural commonalities believed to define the group are regarded as racial in origin. The fact that there is no anthropological basis for such a belief is irrelevant. Perception is what counts" (2001, 44). Popular culture commonly misperceives race as ethnic identity. The twentieth-century conflation of "race" with ethnicity has yielded some remarkable developments. In the United States, as Howard Winant has noted, the panethnicity of the post-civil rights era led to the racialization of what had once been recognized as distinct cultural groupings. For example, he notes that prior to the late 1960s there were no "Asian Americans." "In the wake of the civil rights movement, distinct Asian ethnic groups, primarily Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Korean Americans, began to frame and assert their common identity as Asian Americans. This political label reflected the similarity of treatment that these groups historically encountered at the hands of state institutions and the dominant culture at large" (1998, 200). Creating solidarity among the distinct ethnic groups of Asian origin entailed suppression of the significant historical, cultural, and linguistic differences between them in favor of a racialized identity. The social conflation of ethnicity with race is sometimes purposeful and sometimes a linguistic habit, but scholars of ethnicity have argued, in Henny-Penny-like proclamations, that it is unavoidable. The following section examines the perspectives of scholars on ethnicity in a climate of political correctness.

Ethnic Studies and Scholarly Correctness

As anthropologist Ronald Cohen remarked in 1978, "Quite suddenly, with little comment or ceremony, ethnicity is an ubiquitous presence. Even a brief glance through titles of books and monographs over the past few years indicates a steadily accelerating acceptance and application of the terms 'ethnicity' and 'ethnic' to refer to what was often subsumed under 'culture,' 'cultural,' or 'tribal'" (1978, 379). This is even truer now across disciplines. Anthropologists and sociologists may have approached ethnicity through an interest in tribes, cultures, and societies, and political scientists and historians have addressed ethnic identities through their focus on nationalism, but in the last decade we have increasingly been exploring the same subjects. In the process, we are reinventing each others' wheels, failing to communicate across disciplines and self-righteously debating the supposed rights and wrongs of claiming ethnic identities in a climate of multiculturalism.


Excerpted from Transatlantic Scots Copyright © 2005 by The University of Alabama Press . Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Celeste Ray is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee. She is the author of Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South and editor of Southern Heritage on Display: Public Ritual and Ethnic Diversity within Southern Regionalism.

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