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Dossier : Building the Scottish Diaspora


G. A. Bremner, Harriet Edquist y Stuart King

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1This edition of ABE Journal began life as an international symposium held at the University of Edinburgh in November 2017. That event, like this publication, was entitled “Building the Scottish Diaspora: Scots and the Colonial Built Environment.”1 Sponsored by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies at the University of Edinburgh, the symposium brought together ten representatives from five countries (mainly from within Britain’s former colonial empire) to speak about and discuss topics ranging from trans-imperial finance and building labour networks to Scottish architects, knowledge exchange, and migration.2

2The symposium took as its point of departure the colonial cultures of Scottish entrepreneurship that operated in the hemispheres of the Atlantic and India-Pacific from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Its aim was to explore Scottish traders, merchants, agents, missionaries and others influential in the colonial arenas of these Atlantic and India-Pacific “worlds,” especially within the analytical frameworks of regional, oceanic, and World/Global historiography, methods of cultural and historical geography, and economic and business history. Focusing on the built environment, there was an overriding concern for how Scottish diasporic networks (familial, professional, entrepreneurial, religious etc.) and their material presences might be mapped with a view to understanding better the significance of Scottish modes of operation, particularly (but not exclusively) those Scots who demonstrated their achievement as entrepreneurs in a networked, international environment. Among the many questions considered on the day were: how do we begin to understand the particular Scottish contribution to the colonial built environment, and why is it important? Does reference to a “British” empire in this context too readily encourage coagulation, even confusion, especially where clear ethnic predominance was seen to occur? And how might architecture have been used to forge, or even dissolve, distinctive forms of Scottishness within the wider limits of British identity? The event was rounded off by official responses from Ian Campbell (University of Edinburgh), who reflected on the implications of the Scottish diaspora on the architectural cultures of Scotland itself, and Andrew Leach (University of Sydney), who considered the historiographic trajectories of “Scottishness” and Scottish involvement in the wider world.

  • 3 For a recent historiographic intervention on this front, see G. A. Bremner, “The expansion of Engl (...)

3The central premise of the symposium, which is now taken forward as the basis of this publication, was the growing need to better understand what is meant by the term “British” vis-à-vis empire and architecture. It is our contention that this term is often used in a rather crude and confounded way with respect to the built environment that fails to acknowledge its many inherent complexities and contradictions. Thus, while recognising the general if limited usefulness of the terms “British” and “British imperial,” we suggest the need to delve beneath the surface in an effort to arrive at a more nuanced and differentiated understanding of what an adjective such as “British” demands of us when considering colonial architecture and urbanism. In other words, while useful in some respects, such terms can be misleading.3

  • 4 For the evolutions of Four Nations history, see Ronald G. Asch (ed.), Three Nations – A Common His (...)
  • 5 For instance, see Martha McLaren, British India & British Scotland, 1780-1830: Career Building, Em (...)
  • 6 There is a small number of studies that have considered the question of Scottishness in the archit (...)

4This concern is especially important in the context of recent developments in cognate fields of scholarship, where “Four Nations” and “New British” histories have made significant strides in disaggregating and problematizing the idea of Britishness in relation to empire.4 Happily, and somewhat to our advantage, the involvement of Scotland and its people in the history of the British empire is now increasingly well understood. Whether as merchants, planters, soldiers, explorers, doctors, scientists, teachers, administrators, engineers, or even architects, Scots were to be found throughout the empire and in considerable numbers.5 But the particular contribution that Scots made to the colonial built environment has remained obscure if not entirely unknown.6 In most accounts of British imperial and colonial architecture little or no effort is made to distinguish Scottish from English, Irish, or Welsh agency; nor is it ever asked how, if at all, Scottish building culture and practice consequently affects our appreciation of “British” colonial architecture. This is despite the fact that the legacy of Scottish enterprise across the Atlantic and India-Pacific regions includes a substantial material presence in architecture (civic, ecclesiastical and domestic) and building (wharves, stores, mills, factories, agricultural infrastructure etc.) that clearly spatialised that involvement. Together, these buildings can be understood as elements in a global and imperial arrangement of corporate and private acquisition, speculation and investment, spanning Europe and the Americas, India and Australasia, the Pacific and beyond.

  • 7 For example, see Tamson Pietsch, “A British Sea: Making Sense of Global Space in the Late Nineteen (...)
  • 8 Andrew Mackillop, “Locality, Nation, Empire,” in John M. MacKenzie and T. M. Devine (eds.), Scotla (...)

5A central theme in many if not all of the papers presented here is that of identity and its fluid yet defining characteristics. For the Scottish, identity was particularly important, but it was something that was flexible enough (especially for those who left Scotland) to withstand encapsulation under a broader British banner, while being channelled (when required) into more distinctly parochial forms of association.7 On this point it is worth remembering, as Andrew Mackillop has recently observed, that Scots used empire to re-imagine and reconstruct new forms and variants of Scotland. With this in mind, empire became a means of reconstituting ideas of nationhood that were not necessarily or automatically “British.”8

6The Scottish were also particularly good at networking and plying family connections, which, as far as highlanders were concerned, was a responsibility of the clan system. Thus, many of the papers in this collection likewise consider the different ways in which these networks operated and their effects on building culture and practice. It can be seen that the playing out of these networks led to particular (if not peculiar) ways of doing things, leaving buildings of all kinds, to varying degrees, with indelible marks of Scottishness, including the ethos around which building labour was organised and managed. This also affected the way in which ideas on architecture were shaped and presented within the context of particular intellectual traditions (i.e., the Scottish Enlightenment). This obviously complicates how we see and understand architecture in the wider British world as “British.”

7Finally, if one of the legacies of the New Imperial history has been that we can no longer view British imperialism as an undifferentiated cultural phenomenon, then this surely applies to the built environment as well. This edition of ABE Journal attempts to substantiate this claim by offering a direct and detailed intervention into the historiography by considering the nature of Scotland’s contribution to that environment, as well as asking how we might understand “Scottish architecture” in its geographically continuous and expansive capacities.

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1 URL: Accessed 11 June 2019.

2 The Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies is now part of the Edinburgh Centre for Global History at the University of Edinburgh: Accessed 11 June 2019.

3 For a recent historiographic intervention on this front, see G. A. Bremner, “The expansion of England? Scotland, architectural history, and the wider British world,” Journal of Art Historiography, no. 18, June 2018. URL: Accessed 11 June 2019.

4 For the evolutions of Four Nations history, see Ronald G. Asch (ed.), Three Nations – A Common History? England, Scotland, Ireland and British History, c.1600-1920, Bochum: Brockmeyer, 1993 (Veröffentlichung, 23); Hugh F. Kearney, The British Isles: A History of Four Nations [2nd. edition], Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012; John M. MacKenzie, “Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English Worlds? A Four-Nation Approach to the History of the British empire,” History Compass, vol. 6, no. 5, 2008, p. 1244-1263. For New British history, see Pocock’s seminal essay: J. G. A. Pocock, “British History: A Plea for a New Subject,” New Zealand Journal of History, vol. 8, no. 1, 1974, p. 3-21. URL: Accessed 11 June 2019; and David Armitage, “Making the empire British: Scotland in the Atlantic World 1542-1707,” Past and Present, vol. 155, no. 1, 1997, p. 34-63. See also, Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 1992.

5 For instance, see Martha McLaren, British India & British Scotland, 1780-1830: Career Building, Empire Building, and a Scottish School of Thought on Indian Government, Akron, OH: The University of Akron Press, 2001 (Series on international, political and economy history); T. M. Devine, Scotland’s empire 1600-1815, London: Penguin Books, 2003; Douglas J. Hamilton, Scotland, the Caribbean and the Atlantic World, 1750-1820, Manchester; New York, NY: Manchester University Press, 2005 (Studies in imperialism); Angela McCarthy (ed.), A Global Clan: Scottish Migrant Networks and Identities since the Eighteenth Century, London: I. B. Tauris, 2006 (International libraries of historical studies, 36); George McGilvary, East India Patronage and the British State: The Scottish Elite and Politics in the Eighteenth Century, London: I. B. Tauris, 2008; John M. MacKenzie and T. M. Devine (eds.), Scotland and the British empire, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011 (Oxford history of the British empire companion series); Fred Cahir, Anne Beggs and Alison Inglis (eds.), Scots Under the Southern Cross, Ballarat: BHS Publishing, c.2014; and T. M. Devine and Angela McCarthy (eds.), The Scottish Experience in Asia c.1700 to the Present: Settlers and Sojourners, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017 (Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series).

6 There is a small number of studies that have considered the question of Scottishness in the architecture of the wider British world. This includes: Sophie Drinkall, “The Jamaican Plantation House: Scottish Influence,” Architectural Heritage, vol. 2, no. 1, 1991, p. 56-68; Stuart King, “Eclecticism in the Work of Queensland Colonial Architect F. D. G. Stanley, 1871-1881,” Fabrications, vol. 21, no. 2, 2012, p. 37-60. URL: Accessed 11 June 2019; Harriet Edquist, “The Architectural Legacy of the Scots in the Western District of Victoria, Australia,” Architectural Heritage, vol. 24, no. 1, 2013, p. 67-85; Daniel Maudlin, “Politics and Place-Making on the Edge of Empire: Loyalists, Highlanders, and the Early Farmhouses of British Canada,” in Daniel Maudlin and Bernard L. Herman (eds.), Building the British Atlantic World: Spaces, Places, and Material Culture, 1600-1850, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2016 (H. Eugene and Lilian Youngs Lehman series), p. 290-312; Louis P. Nelson, Architecture and Empire in Jamaica, New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2016, p. 36-64; and Ian Lochhead and Paul Walker, “New Zealand and the Pacific,” in G. A. Bremner (ed.), Architecture and Urbanism in the British empire, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016 (The Oxford history of British empire. Companion series), p. 356-392.

7 For example, see Tamson Pietsch, “A British Sea: Making Sense of Global Space in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Global History, vol. 5, no. 3, 2010, p. 423-446.

8 Andrew Mackillop, “Locality, Nation, Empire,” in John M. MacKenzie and T. M. Devine (eds.), Scotland and the British empire, op. cit. (note 5), p. 75.

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G. A. Bremner, Harriet Edquist y Stuart King, «Editorial»ABE Journal [En línea], 14-15 | 2019, Publicado el 28 julio 2019, consultado el 04 marzo 2021. URL:; DOI:

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G. A. Bremner

Senior Lecturer in Architectural History, Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

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Harriet Edquist

Professor of Architectural History, School of Architecture and Design, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

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Stuart King

Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

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