The Write Union?

Published: 29 November 2013

A new study will consider what impact the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England had on Scottish literature over the course of the last 300 years

In the week of the launch of the Independence White Paper, a new study will consider what impact the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England had on Scottish literature over the course of the last 300 years.

The project will look at literature from Scotland and England dating from before 1707 right through to the present day in an attempt to define how the idea of a United Kingdom has influenced literary culture. It will also show how Scottish writers helped to actively shape a shared British identity both before and after the Union of the Crowns.

The project, involves a series of workshops running from now until 2015, is a collaboration between the universities of Glasgow and St Andrews. It is one of the first large studies to trace the development of literature after the Acts of Union that joined the Kingdom of England together with the Kingdom of Scotland.

Traditionally, literary historians have assumed that Scottish writers adopted a heightened nationalism and defensive tendencies in their works as a reaction to the Union. It is commonly accepted that this shift in national mindset was behind an increased interest in writers such as Robert Burns who reinvoked the Scots dialect.

Researchers will question whether this movement was indeed evidence of which induced an eighteenth-century Scottish crisis of identity and examine the counter-theories that suggest Scottish writers helped to broaden English culture and identity.

The Carnegie Trust funded project also aims to investigate the theory that Scottish writing helped to pave the way for unionism and was a forerunner of a shared British identity even before 1707.

Gerry Carruthers, Professor of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow, said: “Literary historians have always thought that Scottish writers became more nationalistic and defensive after the Union of 1707. It has been argued that the dissolution of the Kingdom of Scotland was the catalyst for a new vernacular renaissance of the Scots language, championed by figures such as Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson and, perhaps above all, Robert Burns.

“This project will look at giving legitimacy to the idea that, rather than railing against the Union by reinforcing ideas of nationhood, Scottish writers played a much more complex role, shaping the idea of unionism before 1707 and, afterwards, proceeding to influence English culture and identity.”


For more information please contact Nick Wade, Media Relations Officer, University of Glasgow: 0141 330 7126 or at

Notes for editors:

The first two workshops in the series are:

29th November 2013

  • Colin Kidd, ‘Union and the Ironies of Displacement in Scottish Literature’
  • Catriona Macdonald & Nick Phillipson, ‘The Puritan-Provincial Vision’
  • Douglas Gifford, Allan Massie & James Robertson, ‘The Union & the Historical Novel’
  • Jeremy Smith, ‘Inventing Scots Language in the Eighteenth Century’’
  • Gerry Carruthers & Colin Kidd, ‘Literature & Union: The Project’

23rd May 2014

  • Roger Mason, ‘Mair and After’
  • Alisdair Raffe  ‘John Arbuthnot & John Bull’; McLean, ‘James Thomson & John Bull’
  • Richard Holmes, James Arbuckle
  • Robert Crawford, Penny Fielding & David Goldie ‘ “Acts of Union” “Archipelagic English” & “Devolving English  Literature”’
  • Richard Whatmore, ‘Geneva’
  • Special event to mark the publication of Chris Whatley, The Scots & the Union: Then & Now  (new EUP edition, 2014) 

First published: 29 November 2013

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