Song Cultures and National Identities in Eighteenth-Century Britain, c.1707-c.1800

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis focuses upon song cultures to provide a fresh perspective on English and Scottish national identities in the eighteenth century. Across five chapters it tracks and describes the reproduction and reinterpretation of various forms of ‘Englishness’ and ‘Scottishness’ through songs and through writings about songs. It is argued that the complexities of English and Scottish identities and the extent of cultural interaction between the two kingdoms are currently obscured by the concept of ‘internal colonialism’. Seen from the ‘colonial’ perspective, the eighteenth century is marked by on-going and conscious English efforts to disparage and displace Scottish culture in order to establish a culturally homogenous Britain. However, this thesis argues that ‘colonialism’ has a tendency to simplify English and Scottish actions by collapsing them into the roles of ‘coloniser’ and ‘colonist’. Through an analysis of song cultures this thesis reveals the extent of cultural exchange that took place between the two kingdoms and argues for a more nuanced reading of English attitudes towards the Scottish people and Scottish culture. The ‘colonial’ perspective is further problematised by the dominant status that Scottish song culture attained during the eighteenth century. This dominance was achieved not just through popularity, but also through reflections upon the meaning of nationhood that took place in enlightenment discourse. During the second half of the eighteenth century, the ‘ancient’, pastoral heritage of Europe was given fresh significance, and Scottish songs, with their simple, yet powerfully ‘expressive’ sounds, were accordingly raised in status. Emphasis upon the power of primitive cultures, coupled with a shift in thinking about music as an expressive rather than an ‘imitative’ ‘art’, led to Scottish songs being judged more ‘ancient’ and more ‘national’ than English song, not just by Scots but by many Englishmen too.
Date of Award1 May 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorLudmilla Jordanova (Supervisor) & Cliff Eisen (Supervisor)

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