Places of memories and memories of place: Scotlands and Scottishnesses in the 1990s

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Mercer


Memories, Scotland, Nationalism

Subject Categories

Geography | Social and Cultural Anthropology


This dissertation investigates the relationship between "memory" and "nation." Having previously lived in and studied Scotland, I selected this nation as a case study. Also, Scotland is the subject of much contemporary interest from geographers and other social scientists who understand Scotland as a "stateless nation" and raise questions about Scottish nationhood and national identity. The twentieth century has been dominated by claims and control over territory in the name of a "nation,"" yet this socio-political spatial concept has proven simultaneously self-explanatory and theoretically problematic. Just what is "a nation"? In this work, I move away from analysing political institutions, governmental bodies and the like to ask everyday people what they remember about "Scotland." The analysis argues that memories form an important link between an individual and a place. People share common social memories of a place, yet they simultaneously construct and remember that place very differently in their autobiographical memories. Memory is a process that is simultaneously personal and societal and plays a central role in the construction of the relationship between self and nation. The research subjects I engaged with are divided by age--elementary school children and middle-aged adults--and by location, namely Edinburgh in Scotland and Central New York. The research design uses qualitative methods. Firstly, the children were asked to "draw a picture about Scotland." I review these drawings and interpret their content and descriptions of this nation. Secondly, I conducted semi-structured interviews with the adult research subjects, asking them about their memories of Scotland and understandings of Scottishness. The dissertation concludes by arguing for a more rigorous assessment of "memory" as an analytical tool in geography and other social science, and that people's memories construct a diverse range of understandings of "Scotlands" and "Scottishnesses."


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