INTERVIEW DR. MATTHEW DZIENNIK

A friend and colleague was recently interviewed about Scotland and Scottish History; and I’m pleased to republish the transcript here.

Interview with Matthew Dziennik
Originally posted on December 18, 2016 at GaelicUSA
…on Scottish Highland military history, engagement with empire, stereotypes of natives, and more …
Matthew Dziennik was raised in the village of Kingussie in Badenoch in the Scottish Highlands. He was awarded a Ph.D. in History at the University of Edinburgh and is the author of The Fatal Land: War, Empire and the Highland Soldier in British America (Yale University Press, 2015). He is currently assistant professor of British and British Imperial History at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis.

(1) We might start by first of all acknowledging the significant military role that Scottish Highlanders had in the history of North America that have had real political and territorial consequences, from the French and Indian War down to the U.S. Civil War. How would you characterize the nature of that involvement and how has it influenced the image of the Highlander as a military figure? What new information has your own research contributed to the understanding of this history?

Gaels were critical to the expansion of the British Empire in North America before 1775 and the subsequent defense of Canada in the 19th century. Highlanders were deployed to Georgia as a bulwark against the Spanish in the 1730s and there were major settlements of Highlanders in North Carolina, New York, Quebec, and Nova Scotia by the American Revolution.
Some of these settlers were former soldiers who had taken the opportunity of land grants in North America following service in the Seven Years’ War. Scots – of which a disproportionate number were Highlanders – comprised almost a third of officers and enlisted men of the British Army in North America in the late 1750s. During the American Revolution, Highlanders may have made up approximately 10% of Loyalist soldiers despite comprising of less than 1% of the American population. The subsequent settlement of these Loyalists in Nova Scotia was important to subsequent Canadian development as part of the British Empire.

It is easy to characterize these military contributions as evidence of defeatism, passivity, or the oppression of the Gàidhealtachd. Many commentators have suggested that with the defeat of Jacobitism and the savage repression of the Highlands that followed in 1746, Gaels were exploited and co-opted to serve as cannon fodder for Britain’s imperial wars. I think, however, that we also have to look at Gaels as proactive agents of imperial expansion.

I’d like to think that if my work has contributed anything to understandings of the Gael in the Americas, it has demonstrated that many young men willingly embraced an imperial system that could individually reward as well as collectively punish. It was obvious to many Highlanders that military service offered an opportunity to escape socio-economic stagnation in the Highlands and secure intellectual and material benefits from the British state. While many Gaels suffered as a result of their enlistment, I think it does a disservice to them to dismiss their choices and interests as the product of powerlessness or ignorance – a common refrain in Anglo-historiography.

(2) On the other hand, the emphasis on military history and the co-option by empire has certainly distorted a holistic and complete understanding of Gaelic culture and society. What strikes you as some of the more important counter-currents to that imperial narrative in your research? What do people misunderstand or misrepresent due to the over-emphasis on the one-dimensional stereotypes of the Highlander as loyal imperial stormtrooper?

I am the wrong person to answer that question! While my historical training may help me collect and interpret evidence with a reasonable degree of sophistication, I chose to write on the role of Gaels in the British military, thereby implicitly reinforcing this one-dimensional view. In a sense, having grown up in the region and having spent so much of my youth absorbing the imagery of the Highlander as an imperial warrior (in regimental museums or army recruiting centres), my work is a product of the colonization of the Highland mind by a self-serving imperial narrative.

This is a major problem and it is a problem shared by other so-called martial peoples throughout the British Empire – Pathans, Sikhs, and Gurkhas as well as Highlanders. The needs of the imperial metropolis came to dominate not only the popular imagery of so-called martial peoples but also peoples’ views of themselves. And the effects of this can be seen long after the British Empire’s authority receded.

There are, however, aspects of the imperial narrative that can be challenged. I try to do so in my work by explaining how young Gaels joined the army for material reasons, not because of a love of militarism; how Gaels frequently and sometimes violently opposed their military and social superiors; how poorer Gaels were quick to abandon their emigration leaders if opportunities arose for better opportunities elsewhere; how most young Highland soldiers were, at least initially, far from the hardened warriors promoted by imperial mythology; and how Gaelic writers used the success of the Highland regiments to inject new confidence and vigor into the communities that they served.

In a wider sense, there are a couple of broader approaches that might help us arrive at a better understanding of Gaelic North American history. The first is to re-focus our energies on the Gaelic language. Language is the essence of a people’s experience and, while there is certainly evidence of the internalization of the imperial narrative in Gaelic sources, there are also numerous challenges to it. Focusing on making these sources available to a new generation of scholars – either through translation or, preferably, Gaelic language training – would do much to advance Gaelic studies.

Second, we need to embrace the lessons of postcolonialism. Highlanders have typically been reluctant to cast themselves as an Indigenous people in the manner typically understood by historians. As a result, scholars from out with the Highlands – Eric Richards, Colin Calloway, and Silke Stroh, to name a few – have written some of the best studies of the effects on colonization on the region.

But, if we accept that various forms of colonization did occur, we can use postcolonialism (the study of how knowledge and information is used to construct political or cultural power) to challenge Anglocentric views of the Gàidhealtachd. We can read against the grain when dealing with archives and sources and we can think of English-language documents as only one method among many that contribute to a better understanding of the Highlands and its people.

(3) To what degree has Highland military history been integrated into the study of North American history? Do you think that Gaels have been recognized and analyzed as a people unto themselves in the academic activity in North America, with their own characteristics and cultural contexts and primary sources, or have they simply been lumped together with all Britons and seen through anglophone documentary evidence? What have the consequences been of the standard approach to this historical study? What is missing or incomplete in our historical representation as a result?

Yes and no. It is difficult to strike the right balance.

On the one hand, the repeated use of “England” as shorthand for the British Empire obscures the extent to which non-English speakers drove the colonization process in North America, often for reasons that did not align with interests in the imperial metropole. Similarly, we might think of the rise of Canada and the United States in terms of grand national narratives but, in reality, settler colonialism was a remarkably varied, chaotic, and unfinished experiment in political order. It derived its strength not from the political, economic, or cultural superiority of English-speaking peoples – an argument best made by Winston Churchill – but by the diversity of skills, objectives, and cultures it was able to tolerate. Ignoring this diversity – ignoring the ways in which Gaels experienced North America in specific terms – runs the risk of oversimplification.

On the other hand, there is the risk of ethnic exceptionalism. Some studies of Gaelic settlement in North America make the case that the Gaelic experience was unique; that Gaels were exceptionally qualified to expand British hegemony in the wilds of Canada; or that Gaels, for reasons of historic experiences, engaged with Indigenous peoples on a more sympathetic level. My research, particularly with regard to this last point, suggests that this was not the case.

I am not sure that there is a clear answer to this question. It is certainly the case, however, that too few historians have the necessary skills or training to explore the autonomous Gaelic experience of settlement in the Americas.

(4) Do you find the lack of support for Scottish Gaelic Studies in N America (inc Canada) surprising? Do you think that it could or should be improved? How would scholarship about imperial history, immigrant history, indigenous relations, etc., be made more complete or nuanced by developing the North American dimensions of Scottish Gaelic scholarship?

I do not find the lack of support for Scottish Gaelic studies in North America surprising. Support for Gaelic in Scotland is a relatively recent phenomenon – the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act was only passed in 2005 – and the Gaelic community has been exceptionally proactive in creating a partnership with the Scottish Government that counters historic injustices and emphasizes the importance of Gaelic language provision.

But, while I am not surprised by the lack of support in North America, I do find it surprising that so much has been written on Gaels in the Americas without a firmer grasp of the socio-economic, linguistic, or historic contexts of the Scottish Highlands. As I said, there are not enough researchers with the necessary skills or interests in Gaelic to be able to more fully explore the history of Gaels in the Americas. This should change.

What such a change would do is a more difficult question to answer. I am reluctant to suggest what such support might change in terms of our understandings. One of the primary merits of modern historiography is the sheer variety of topics and approaches that can be pursued. Historical skills and linguistic competence should always be emphasized but what scholars then do with those skills is as varied as the scholars themselves. That is part of the reason why history is such a fascinating part of the humanities.

I would, however, like to see much less written on English views of Gaels and much more written on Gaelic views of themselves and their hopes and aspirations when they arrived in the Americas. That would be a good start.

(5) What are your current and future research plans, and how do they relate to these issues?

The focus of my current research is the recruitment of colonial peoples into the British army in the 18th and 19th centuries. It places the military recruitment of Gaels in the context of wider efforts to bring Indigenous peoples into the British military in the century prior to 1850. This research can help contextualize the Gaelic experience as well as pointing out where the Gaelic experience was different or unique.

I am also thinking a lot about views of colonial peoples in Gaelic writings, particularly in the early nineteenth century when British views more generally became less sympathetic to Indigenous cultures and experiences. How we view others often tells us a lot about how we view ourselves.

**

 

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Legal pot won’t affect workplace drug testing, expert says

In today’s Star Phoenix, Alex MacPherson reports on mandatory drug testing in the workplace.

It’s a thoughtful piece and useful for the business community.

Drug-test-Results-Report

The legalization of marijuana will raise numerous issues in the business community, in labour law, and among unions and union members, including pre-employment and random drug testing.  We can see just how complex this will be when we take a look at the United States.

In June of last year, Colorado’s Supreme Court found it legal for a given company to fire an employee who has legally smoked marijuana. But here’s the thing: this shouldn’t be viewed as a sign that employers in every state will have the right to fire employees who use marijuana under the protection of state laws. The reason is that Colorado has its own specific set of labour laws and marijuana laws that led to the court’s finding. 

Basically, different states have different laws when it comes to the consequences for employees who test positive for drugs. Take Maine: the law there prohibits companies from firing employees the first time they test positive, and requires them to offer an opportunity to enter rehab.

Read MacPherson’s article.

drug-testing

HEAT, 20 YEARS LATER

In December 1995, my movie-world was rocked to its foundations with the release of Heat, Michael Mann’s L.A.-based crime masterpiece. I had never seen or heard anything like it. The action sequences were thoughtful, gritty, and cacophonous. The story, while not overly complicated, was compelling. I staggered out of the theater (Saskatoon’s now defunct Capitol Four) disoriented and punch-drunk. Heat was immediately one of my favorite films.

heat poster

Prior to the film’s release, it was surmised that the onscreen meeting of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro would create a rift in the space-time continuum. (Of course, they had both starred in the Godfather II, but had not shared the screen.)

Michael Mann, fresh off The Last of the Mohicans, chanced a rupture in space and time, and it was clearly worth the risk. He cast Pacino as Lt. Vincent Hanna and DeNiro as Neil McCauley. Both characters were driven, adrenaline-fuelled, Alphas: McCauley the cool career criminal with a code, and Hanna as the unrelenting, hyper-passionate lawman.

Over the course of 170 mins, they play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse throughout the streets of Los Angeles. Hanna seeks out McCauley with singular determination, while McCauley pursues his final big “score.” At one stage, they sit down for a cup of coffee and discuss their situation. This scene, of course, was highly anticipated and, according to Mann, unrehearsed to maintain authenticity.

According to Matt Patches in Esquire, as Hanna and McCauley ruminate on the duality of human instincts the scene is “biblically awesome.” I certainly agree, but it isn’t the best part of the film.

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Instead, the heists – that is, the action sequences – remain the most memorable and explosive scenes in the film. The realism of the high-octane robberies left me breathless. As Mann explained it, the shootout scenes were done “using the natural sound of the gunfire recorded on set. And with no visual effects.” According to Vince Mancini, “the action scenes have a way of drowning out the rest in retrospect because they brought an intensity…that I don’t think we’d ever seen up until that point.” Here’s a YouTube link to the armored car robbery.

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But what about drugs, you may ask? Right, I nearly forgot.

Al Pacino’s frenetically intense Lt. Hanna is constantly on the edge. He’s thoroughly hardcore in his pursuit of McCauley and he’s always keeping it 100. The original script of the film showcased his addiction to cocaine, a “tool” he used to stay sharp, stay focused. However, the final version – much like Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes – chose not to go down that cocaine road and underline mis/use of the drug.

At the end of 2015, we’re caught in the midst of Star Wars mania. We’re trapped in its unyielding gravitational pull. Yet, twenty years ago this month Heat proved itself a groundbreaking crime drama. In a recent Q&A during the Toronto International Film Festival, Mann answered a question about the line in the film, “time is luck.” He asserted to audience members that he truly believed it —  that “Time is luck and that’s why I keep repeating it in all these movies.” If we’re lucky, we’ll be talking about Heat in another twenty years.

 

Lumbersexuality in Saskatoon? Oh – and a Bit About Psychiatry

First David Beckham brought us the metrosexual look and now we have witnessed the rise of the “lumbersexual.” In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary just named it one of the most important words of 2015. (Emoji won. But “lumbersexuality” was in the mix.)

In Saskatoon, SK, you will see these particular bearded, booted, manly-men in specialty coffee shops on 20th Street as well as Broadway Avenue. They frequent the Farmer’s Market and craft breweries. Back in October, these hirsute individuals were given the label “lumbersexual” by the website GearJunkie.  And since then, popular culture has taken this term and run with it.

download lumbersexual look

While the U.K.’s Daily Mail has showcased Ben Affleck and Kanye West in flannel and denim, Cosmopolitan asked its readers, “Are you Dating a Lumbersexual?” Here at home, the CBC got it all wrong. It suggested in November, 2014 that the lumbersexual tends to reside in urban centres like New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto.

Of course, this is not entirely accurate.  Anyone who has visited the University of Saskatchewan campus recently can attest that we have real, live lumbersexuals in Saskatoon as well. This is not just a “big” city phenomenon.

However, it is a men’s fashion trend with a long history and it’s wrapped up in the history of psychiatry. At the turn of the 20th century, men trapped in cities began suffering from neurasthnenia, a new disease that skyrocketed to near epidemic proportions in 1880-1890s. There was a concern that middle-class white men were growing more anxious, tired, and depressed.

George Beard, M.D, came up with the term in 1881 and believed that the fast-paced lifestyle and modern industrial economy caused disruptions in man’s “nervous energy.” The way to balance this energy was not simply with drugs. Beard’s answer was to withdraw from the pressures of urban life and get active.

For him, neurasthenia was a catchall term for a broad set of symptoms. And whereas women were ordered to bed for hysteria (or prescribed other unmentionable treatments), men were instructed to get back to nature, find their primitive side, and be masculine. That is, be wild. Outdoorsy. Think Thoreau.

In an effort to capitalize on this diagnosis, the lumberjack image – a rugged, axe-wielding, naturalist – was created to serve as a model of manliness. He was a cure for the chronic neurasthenics and was also a tool of journalists and advertisers. This archetype came to life in magazines and newspapers and was used to sell all manner of goods.

University of Virginia
This chart from American Nervousness, Its Causes and Consequences by George M. Beard (1881) illustrates the progression of symptoms attributed to neurasthenia.

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Are we seeing something similar now in the use of the lumberjack motif?  In an age of increased awareness about Depression and other mental health issues, are we seeing the cyclical return of a 135-year old fashion trend?

Of course, this is what happened with metrosexuality. And the broader lumbersexual phenomenon, according to Tim Teeman, is just straight culture’s latest attempt to theatricalize masculinity – decades after gays got there first.

In Teeman’s view, lumbersexuality is the “latest pasteurizing of sexuality…” It is, he writes (half-seriously) just another way that straights have stolen from gay culture. First it was design expertise, gym dedication, and gift-buying acumen. Now this. “What else can we give you?” jokes Teeman.

In other words, that fellow working in the coffee shop or strolling through the mall is helping reinvent a century-old fashion trend. And his long but well-maintained beard, polished leather boots, tattoos, and dark jeans – let’s be honest, the great style – has a history stretching back over a hundred years.

The Canadian Election and Sask Marijuana

The federal election is going to have a profound impact on Saskatchewan’s marijuana industry. So writes D.C. Fraser in a new article for the Regina Leader-Post.

I told Fraser during an interview for the story that “Depending on what the winner suggests about medical marijuana legislation, (it will have) a direct impact on the economy, and on this sector of the economy…”

In many ways, SK has the potential for tremendous growth in the realm of medical marijuana and I’m genuinely intrigued to see what happens in the next few years.

A link to the full Leader-Post article is here.

Dried Buds
Dried Buds