This week is graduation, and since it’s the only ceremony of this type in which I have allowed myself to be forced to attend, my family graciously came to visit.
Part of the fun of family coming to visit, is you get to see the city through the eyes of first-timers to Edinburgh. Suddenly, all the places that eventually blended into the background of your mundane day-to-day, have regained the romance they had when you first arrived.
Whilst they were here, we enjoyed touring the Castle, St. Giles Cathedral, Rosslyn Chapel, Mary King’s Close, the High Street, the Christmas Market, golf at St. Andrews, and a few other spots. At each of our stops, as we passed through the gift shops conveniently placed at every exit, we spent a bit of time looking over clan tartans.
Our sudden (or maybe longstanding) interest in all things Scottish tartan came with a reason. It was perhaps quite convenient that just before my family arrived, a relative of ours discovered the following information about our Scottish heritage (on my father’s side):
The most relevant part of this new info is this:
In 1988, while researching an ancestor with Scottish lineage, I discovered that Maldred [my ancestral grandfather, d. 1045] was the younger brother of Duncan I, King of Scotland. With this discovery, twenty additional generations were added to the previous documented 29 generations, resulting in 49 documented generations in this family.
So, knowing now that we are descendants of Scottish Royalty, this last trip, with the whole family, felt extra special.
Of course, anyone slightly familiar with the content of this blog would know that I would simply write this off as a type of ‘fiction.’ In this case, however, and ever so briefly, I’ll let it slide. I mean, I do in fact look a bit like Fassbender’s MacBeth, right?
So, all hail me, Dr. Ethan G. Quillen, Scottish Royalty.
On a less ridiculous note, my family’s new info, and thus further interest in all things Scottish Tartan, got me thinking. In fact, while waiting out the long list of names called at the ceremony today, and perhaps as one last chance to consider changing my Thesis topic, I threw together this idea. I will present it here as a brief abstract, because, given the celebratory frivolity of this afternoon and evening’s events, I simply don’t have the time to expand.
It’s All Relative: An Ethnographic Analysis of American-Scottish Identity Constructions
Everyday in Edinburgh, visitors from America come to the numerous ‘Scottish Heritage’ shops conveniently placed on the Royal Mile. These individuals are, in our contemporary context, a new type of pilgrim. They are in search of a connecting thread, a symbolic link to an ancient past. They spend hundreds and hundreds of pounds purchasing clan information booklets, kilts, scarfs, and clothing fashioned from a particular woollen tartan, their tartan, a physical embodiment of their ancestral lineage. Why do they do this? This analysis will attempt to answer this simple question with four case studies, while at the same time both establish a linkage between these pilgrim’s construction of Scottish ancestry and the notion that they further an intercontinental sense of imagined community, as well as challenge the perception that one’s heritage is nothing more than a type of identity artifice, of fiction.
***One last funny anecdote from this week***
When my parents arrived, a day ahead of my brother and his family, we took them to the Christmas market. While standing at the bar in St. Andrews Square, I caught the attention of a rather sullied and drunken gentleman chatting up a young woman. He looked at me, caught her attention, and announced to all in ear shot:
“Look eh this chap, ‘ere. This is a Scotsman!”
Then to me, he said:
“I bet your name is Robert Robertson from the highest highlands!”
Back to the young woman:
“Look at him. He’s the most Scottish I’ve ever seen!”
Taking a moment to let his declaration sink in, as well as to build a rather large pregnant pause, I responded, in my most Southern California accent:
“Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m just an American”
My fellow drinkers found it rather humorous, and the drunken fellow happily hugged me.
He then further declared:
“Eh, it’s all relative!”