Case Study: Being British, being somebody else

The CWGC memorial for H. Reid (left) and the Reid family memorial (right) to which his name has been added. Westray, orkney. Photograph courtesy of Sarah Tarlow

At St Mary's kirkyard on Rousay, Orkney, is a military memorial erected to the memory of Private H. Reid who died in 1917 at the age of 23 (see Tarlow 1999, 157-8). Most casualties of the Great War are buried in military graveyards, and this type of memorial is thus most common in those contexts. In this case, however, the individual concerned died convalescing on Orkney and the burial took place in a local graveyard.

Because Private Reid's gravestone was of a standard type issued by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), it follows the normal first World War pattern of having only a rank, serial number and first initial, together with the name of his regiment and a short epitaph chosen from a list (in this case 'Their memory hallowed in the land they loved'). The ornamentation on the stone is restricted to the regimental badge and a religious symbol (a cross). Private Reid is commemorated here as a soldier and his identity is tied to the wider corporate body of his regiment and of the army. The epitaph further emphasises this corporate identity ('Their memory . . .') and links Reid to those others who have died at war and to the nation for which they fought ('the land they loved').

There is no information on this memorial about Private Reid's home, his personality, his family and their feelings, their hopes for his eternal life or for meeting him again. These sentiments are common on civilian monuments of the period but absent from this military memorial, with its corporate and national focus. In Private Reid's case, the family attempted to make up for this by adding his name to the adjacent gravestone of his mother (who died in 1894, either while giving birth to him or soon afterwards). Here, 'Private H. Reid' is remembered simply as 'Harry', and his identity is that of a son. This memorial gives the names of both of his parents and his place of death.

This example shows how commemoration chooses to accentuate a particular aspect of a person's social being. In the case of CWGC monuments, like the community war memorials that exist throughout Scotland, that aspect was as a member of a large corporate and national whole, rather than an individualised person. These monuments materialise and contribute to the creation of persons as components of a national body. This was not always adequate to mourning families who preferred to individualise their dead and relate them to their family.


Return to Section 5.4 Being Scottish, or being something else


5.5 Research recommendations

Future research should:

  1. Develop critical understanding of the modern nation and state by researching their construction through the material environment and in practice. Archaeologies of modern Scotland can and should engage with questions of nation and state, providing a valuable material perspective on " their historical emergence and development. To contribute to understandings of this topic, archaeologists should take a critical stance towards questions of nation and state, treating them as historical subjects: not inevitable nor unchangeable, but originating and developing in particular historical circumstances; and not simply a backdrop against which life was lived, but networks of relationships constructed, enacted and contested by living actors.
  2. Challenge simplistic, essentialist understandings of nation and state by producing alternative histories which evidence the multiple ways these terms took on meaning for people and the many different ways in which people have related to nation and state in the modern world. There is more than one modern Scotland and there are multiple ways of being Scottish. Research should also evidence the complex relationships between Scotland and Scottishness, on the one hand, and other co-ordinates of nation and state, on the other, and it should provide insights into historical interactions between nation and state and other reference points of identity and being.
  3. Analyse the materialisation and effects of borders, the internal ordering of the state and actions relating to external defence. How were borders implemented or circumvented in practice? What were the material, cultural, social and economic impacts of the existence of borders and of their changing character? How was the state constructed and ordered within its borders? Material histories of internal pacification, the extension of state authority and control throughout the country and engagement with or resistance to these processes will make a valuable contribution to understandings of modern Scotland. And what can the archaeology of national defence tell us, both in terms of the military aspects of defence but also in terms of the impacts of state defensive measures and features on daily life within Scotland?
  4. Determine how the state has come to be embedded in everyday life. What was the role of material culture in integrating the state in people's everyday lives? How did people respond to the state, through the medium of their material environment? How did the state manifest itself and extend its remit and authority through things, places and landscapes? What was the pervasiveness of the state at different times and in different places, and how did it affect the selves and relationships of persons, families and communities? These questions might be addressed through the archaeology of religion and belief, through the archaeology of state-managed landscapes, through archaeologies of administration, taxation, policing, surveillance and the monopolisation of violence. They might be addressed through archaeologies of smuggling and tax evasion, civil disobedience and other ways in which the authority of the state was resisted or denied.
  5. Provide insights into the historical character of Scottishness and into interactions between Scottish, British and other identities and ideologies. What is the material culture of national identity and what does material culture tell us about the complexities of ideas of nationhood and their varied and contested history? How has Scottishness related to other identities of locality, region, nation, religion, language, culture, politics, class, gender etc.? Is national identity relevant in the interpretation of most aspects of modern life? Archaeology is well-placed to consider the materialities and practices of situated, multiple, complex, contradictory, shifting and fluid cultural, social and political identities and allegiances.

In all of the above, the over-arching aim should be to provide a deep perspective on questions of nation and state as they relate to modern Scotland. This perspective will be achieved by understanding the material history of modern relationships of nation and state and their interaction with other aspects of self and society.