Building the Scottish Diaspora

Scots and the Colonial Built Environment c.1700-1920

The involvement of Scotland and its people in the history of the British empire is now well understood. Whether as merchants, planters, soldiers, explorers, doctors, scientists, teachers, administrators, engineers, or even architects, Scots were to be found throughout the empire and in considerable numbers. But the particular contribution that Scots made to the colonial built environment remains obscure if not entirely unknown. In most accounts of British imperial and colonial architecture little or no effort is made to distinguish Scottish from English, Irish, or Welsh agency; nor is it ever asked how, if at all, Scottish building culture and practice consequently affects our appreciation of ‘British’ colonial architecture. This is despite the fact that the legacy of Scottish enterprise across the Atlantic and India-Pacific regions includes a substantive material presence in architecture (civic, ecclesiastical and domestic) and building (wharves, stores, mills, factories, agricultural infrastructure etc.) that spatialised that involvement. Together, these buildings can be understood as elements in a global and imperial arrangement of corporate and private acquisition, speculation and investment spanning Europe and the Americas, India and Australasia, the Pacific and beyond.

If one of the legacies of New Imperial History has been that we can no longer view British imperialism as an undifferentiated cultural phenomenon, then does not the same apply to the built environment of empire? This symposium will consider the nature of Scotland’s contribution to this environment, and ask how we might understand it in a geographically continuous and expansive capacity.