Thursday, August 1, 2013

Welcome to Glasgow: Cathedrals, Archives, and a New City | A Journey to Scotland

The following journal details my activities from 24-26 July. There are lots of photos. Hope you enjoy.

A New City - Welcome to Glasgow, Farewell Dundee

Today we transferred from Dundee to Glasgow. We had the afternoon off aside from logistical activities like getting access to the library and purchasing University of Strathclyde wear. My initial impressions of Glasgow were definitely positive; it is clearly much larger than Dundee. You can feel more of a city vibe in Glasgow, and it is certainly more cultured than Dundee. We saw street performers and heard live music while walking through style mile and exploring all the way down to the subway station. It was sad to say goodbye to our Dundee group leader, Daria, but I am excited to see what Glasgow has in store. We hear a lot about how Glasgow is a rougher city; violence, homelessness, drugs, and health issues are presented as rampant Glaswegian problems. So far, the city feels safe enough. Perhaps it’s all relative. In the US, there are a fair number of extremely large cities. With any large city come problems. In a country such as Scotland where the national population is dwarfed by NYC’s, Glasgow may get a bad rap simply due to the fact that it is one of a kind in Scotland. I suppose I’ll have to find out for myself. 

National Myths and Glasgow Cathedral


Today’s class looked at the Wars of Independence all the way to the Reformation. This class covered an immense amount of history, making it somewhat overwhelming to digest. However, I was able to pick out a few interesting bits of information. Professor Findley taught us a bit about Scottish origination myths; less important are the myths themselves than how they were actually used. As nationalistic movements spread throughout Scotland, myths of origin came into focus. It is fascinating how a country shapes its own narrative; furthermore, this narrative is used in order to evoke sentiments of independence. We have these myths in the US, such as Honest Abe. Though these stories are generally accepted as being false, they still are able to characterize a national sentiment. This practice has been around for some time – the wars of independence took place in the 1300’s in Scotland. We also talked about how Scots were encouraged to fight. Notions of commonality had to evolve. For example, people had to start fighting for an idea, fighting for commonwealth, etc. This evolution is actually quite philosophical. Many nationalistic wars must start with an idea in order to evoke a sense of community. 

We also visited the Glasgow Cathedral. The existence of the cathedral is a wonder in and of itself. Few cathedrals survived the reformation. The rarity of the structure makes it precious. The architecture is striking; the ornate stained glass, gothic styled arches, and Roman influenced hallways all come together to create an awe-inspiring building. I tend to forget that these structures were all created in the name of God. In modern times, it is hard to imagine such money being poured into a building of worship. This really reinforces the everyday importance that the church played in history. Though I personally agree with the Reformation movement, I am glad that this building survived as a historical reminder of how Catholicism once ruled the land. 

Who Were the Covenanters?

Today’s class was on the Jacobites and the Covenanters. Once again, we were given a huge amount of information in a short period of time. I picked out a few interesting notes from the lecture that I see as having strong connections to contemporary Scotland. When Charles I began implementing Anglican-feeling teachings into a new prayer book, it is said that a woman began a revolution. This ability of Scotland to say no still resonates today. The country is perseverant, and movements such as the modern independence movement reflect the stubborn and independent nature of Scottish culture. It is recurring that Scotland became great due to its membership in the UK; however, there is a long-standing drive to be different and free that pops up throughout history and persists to modern day. Yet another interesting note deals with the Scottish global perspective. In Dundee and Glasgow, professors have iterated the notion that Scotland has always been an outward looking nation. During the Covenanter movement, Swedes recognized revolutionaries. Scotland’s ability to create relations with European powers seems to have really worked to its benefit. This outward perspective should, in my opinion, help Scotland to maintain status as a member of the EU if Scottish independence comes to fruition. 

We also visited Mitchell Library, the largest library in Europe. We were given a presentation by an archivist where I picked up a few interesting facts. Prior to the Reformation, Glasgow was a site of pilgrimage. The Glasgow Cathedral is said to hold the remains of St. Mungo, making it a relic site. It is still hard for me to conceptualize the massive changes that took place during the Reformation. How did a country convert from being ruled by Catholicism to nearly banning it? This volatility of Scotland, and Europe as a whole, says something about the flexibility and ingenuity of this area of the world.

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