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Scott, Scotland and his Global Legacy

Scott is often said to have invented an idea of Scotland. View this video where Kirsty Archer-Thompson explores Scott’s global legacy.
KIRSTY ARCHER-THOMPSON: In the last section of the course, we explored Scott’s writing. Now, much of that writing is set in Scotland and so powerful were the images he created that he almost cemented an idea of Scotland in the minds of his readers across Britain, but also further afield. And that is not without complexity. Some have even gone as far as to say that he is the grandfather of our national tourist tradition, but also that he has created a version of Scotland all of his own, a “Scottland” with two t’s, if you like.
As we’ll see later in the course, Scott’s ideas about nationhood are far more complex than they might first seem. What is clear though, is that his legacy has left powerful markers right around the globe, not least where we’re now standing today, his home at Abbotsford.
Abbotsford became a tourist destination of sorts almost immediately after building work had finished in the 1820s, making it one of the UK’s first writer’s homes to welcome the curious public. Such was Scott’s fame and renown that during his own lifetime and the occupation of the family at Abbotsford, it was already a place of pilgrimage for other writers. And this trend continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. In the archive, we still have visitors’ books stretching back for 200 years bearing the signatures of Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde, to name just a few of the world-famous writers to have walked these rooms and even to have sat at Scott’s desk.
From the literati, to artists, royalty, and future US presidents, they all came here to try and access the imagination of a famous writer in a very tangible way. Today, Abbotsford is managed by an independent and ambitious charity and visited by over 40,000 visitors a year. They come, not only from Scotland, but from right across the world. But Abbotsford is not the only place where Scott is remembered. There are places all over the world where he is commemorated. The most famous of these is, of course, in Edinburgh Princes Street, where the Scott monument stands right next to the railway station named after his first novel, Waverley. Since 2014, Scott’s connection with Waverley has also become experiential in the station itself.
An installation funded by UNESCO and mounted by Edinburgh City of Literature has decorated the station with Scott’s own phrases, commemorating his legacy as a wordsmith. In fact, it’s only the plays of William Shakespeare and the Bible itself that have had more of an impact on the English language than the writing of Walter Scott. There are also monuments to Scott right across the world. You can find him in places like Central Park in New York and Halifax in Canada. But he’s also evident in the place names around us, everything from the name of bars and restaurants, to streets and people’s houses. His influence can be found in the ways that we might think about nationhood, history, even the novel form itself.

Scott’s complex contribution to the ‘image’ of Scotland endures and influences thinking and perceptions to this day, and this video introduces you to a theme that we will be returning to in more detail as the course progresses. It also highlights the global reach of Scott and the physical markers that he has left in the world around us.

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Walter Scott: The Man Behind the Monument

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