Case Study: Linking Communities to Historic Environments (LCHE) Research Review

Debate over the theory, ethics, politics and practice of public and community archaeology needs to be grounded through research analysing the nature and circumstances of such engagement, past and present.

The Linking Communities to Historic Environments project was a six-month research review, undertaken by RCAHMS in 2011 and funded under the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Connected Communities programme. The review aimed to identify historic changes in community engagement that have occurred over a period of up to 50 years. Over this period, the roles of public and third sector heritage organisations have changed and their approaches to community engagement and the historic environment have been many and varied. The LCHE review has revealed differences between 'top down' and 'bottom up' approaches, and illustrated the changing nature of 'connectivity' between communities and their broader historic environment. There are obvious tensions and challenges when it comes to community engagement projects and the review sought to identify these.

During the course of the research review a number of conclusions emerged, including:

  1. While there is a plethora of public and community engagement research and research review material available, little of this is specific to the historic environment and to community engagement in Scotland - literature about community engagement, within the historic environment sphere, is often based on world experiences that do not necessarily easily compare to Scottish experiences;
  2. The manifold demands of communities need to be met through institutional changes within the historic environment sector and institutional change combined with external partnership working could improve meeting the demands for community engagement;
  3. Research into community-led, historic environment projects and undertaking increased community-based engagement through Scotland's historic environment will contribute to the five Strategic Objectives of Scottish Government's National Performance Framework;
  4. Future directions could include creating engagement networks on three levels - national, regional and local - by working with national organisations, regional councils and networks and at parish and local community-council scale, respectively;
  5. The historic environment can be used as a tool to engage a far broader range of people and consideration needs to be given to how inclusiveness might be extended through more imaginative projects and partnerships, which draw in skills and expertise from outwith the historic environment sector. In this way, capacity can be built not only within the discipline and profession but also within communities themselves.

Scotland’s Rural Past survey at Torrans, Mull, producing a survey of the archaeological remains, © RCAHMS

Return to Section 9.4 Popular knowledge and public collaboration

Case Study: The Development of religious buildings

The ruins of St Andrews Cathedral viewed from St Rule’s Tower, © RCAHMS

Religious buildings stand as important confessional statements within both the rural and urban environment. Monumental cathedrals such as Glasgow or the ruins of St Andrews are evocative reminders of the complex liturgies and ceremonies that were associated with the medieval mystery of the mass. At the Reformation, some cathedrals, like St Andrews and Elgin, were abandoned for local parish churches which were more suitable for the more intimate arrangements required for preaching in the Reformed Kirk. The cathedral at Glasgow was abandoned before being divided into several separate churches. At a parochial level the buildings were reconfigured and where there was a chancel it was frequently abandoned, often becoming a burial aisle. These were structural alterations that were not always successful in their attempts to reorganise the ritual space that had been constructed for different confessional practices. As Burns noted: 'What a poor pimping business is a Presbyterian place of worship! Dirty, narrow, squalid: stuck in a corner of old popish grandeur such as Linlithgow'.

The restoration of churches, such as Haddington and Stirling in the twentieth century, has recreated to some extent the medieval appearance of these buildings, and something of their Catholic grandeur. This has, however, been at the expense of the more recent Reformed church interior which has been regarded as an intrusion. The 17th-century sectarianism which divided the parish church of Holy Rood in Stirling is now only a matter of historical and photograph record, rather than an archaeological and architectural statement. Here, then, a heritage concern for the original and most ancient form of the building has resulted in the erasure of direct and tangible reminders of the Reformation history of these buildings and the communities to which they relate.

Churches have, of course, been transformed in more recent times as well: Al-Furqan Mosque in Glasgow and Dundee Central Mosque were established in former churches while, in Edinburgh, the United Free Church of Scotland building in Queensferry Road, Blackhall, became a mosque in 2009. Some structural elements commonly found in churches, such as galleries, translate well across faiths, but other features need to be altered, adapted, removed or added to meet new religious purposes.

The evolution and adaptation of such buildings to meet the demands of different denominations and faiths speaks to Scotland's complex religious history and these buildings have a place in the histories and ongoing stories of many groups within Scottish society. These buildings have played a prominent role in key social, religious and political changes in the modern Scottish past and they have much to tell about still-resonant historical conflicts and differences between groups. But they also speak of shared spaces, beliefs, traditions and practices and of commonality, co-existence and creative adaptation.

Return to Section 9.5 A Political Past