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This special issue of Angles reflects on Scotland’s cultural heritage as an important national asset with a focus on cities. Instead of the country’s natural heritage, which is often favoured in analyses of Scotland’s past, the journal assesses its distinctive urban heritage and how this relates to issues of national identity. Taking a broad approach to Scotland’s urban heritage, the journal includes contributions on urban development, preservation, architecture, collective and public memory, and tourism as well as documentary film and literature spanning from the early modern period to the present.

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Video Introduction #16

2This special issue of Angles reflects on Scotland’s cultural heritage as an important national asset, with a specific focus on cities. Instead of the country’s natural heritage, which is often favoured in analyses of Scotland’s past, the journal assesses its distinctive urban heritage and how this relates to issues of national identity. Taking a broad approach to Scotland’s urban heritage, the journal includes contributions on urban development and heritage conservation, historic buildings and architecture, collective and public memory, tourism and the cultural industries, as well as film and literature, with subjects spanning from the early modern period to the present. Hence, the conception is interdisciplinary, bringing together perspectives from literary, cultural, and media studies scholars, as well as historians of architecture, and also from practitioners in the creative and heritage industries, such as architects, curators, and archivists. In addition to purely academic papers, we have thus included open formats, such as a gallery of images, a collection of voices, and an interview. The aim is to reveal the rich and varied ways that contemporary scholars, stakeholders, and professionals view urban heritage in a Scottish context. As such, this special issue, Cities in Scotland: Cultural Heritage and National Identity, is intended as an introductory overview on current concerns of Scotland’s cultural memory while also offering interesting case studies to engage with a particular Scottish city or issue relating to Scotland’s heritage.

3Providing new insight into the interactions between architectural and medical knowledge, Anne-Marie Akehurst’s paper “Anatomising ‘Athens’” discusses the reputation of Edinburgh as a centre of excellence for medicine in the modern period. She argues that the Enlightenment city emerged from the entanglement of lieux de mémoire and lieux de savoir and traces how it offered unique conditions, through its architecture and urban space, for the teaching and transmission of knowledge.

4In contrast to an image of the city that emphasises the outstanding cultural and intellectual achievements of the Scottish Enlightenment, Silvia Mergenthal’s contribution focuses on the infamous Burke and Hare murderers in the beginning of the nineteenth century. She dwells on the dark shadows of Edinburgh’s violent past and its legacy of crime, which she relates to the “Caledonian antisyzygy”, a structural dichotomy in the literary haut lieu of the Scottish capital. Taking the example of Ian Rankin’s crime novel, The Falls (2001), her paper discusses the re-circulation and spatio-temporal referentiality of texts about Burke and Hare situating them in the wider context of the Scottish literary canon. Whereas the detective-protagonist of Rankin’s text navigates the urban-medical lieux de savoir picking up on clues at the Museum of Scotland, both sides – the real and the fictive – have already been embedded in the tourist industries.

5Located at the intersection of tourism, media, and cultural studies, Irmina Wawrzyczek’s discursive analysis of VisitScotland tourism websites in the last pre-Covid-19 season 2019-20 assesses the rich promotional intertext of Scottish cities. She employs the term ‘palimpsest’ to uncover the multi-layered identities of Scotland’s urban places. Scottish cities emerge as a distinct commodification of Scotland’s regional identity, packaged as a paradise for well-being that includes urban heritage attractions, such as historic buildings or culture, and also as gateways to the abundant natural assets of the Scottish countryside. As cities are newly advertised as wellness tourist destinations, the promotional text thereby also takes up the medical tourist tradition while battling notions of overtourism.

6Social well-being, urban heritage, and progressive urban redevelopment constitute key features of the activities of The Thistle Property Trust, both past and present. The Trust was formed in 1928 as Scotland’s first property trust with a view to offering sanitary housing for the inhabitants of Stirling. The gallery presented here reminds us of how the historic centre near the Castle was regenerated through the work of a Property Trust that was originally managed by women, and whose methods were inspired by Victorian social reformer Octavia Hill. This panoramic approach of the activities of the Trust is presented as a dynamic exhibition by Lindsay Lennie and Rachael Purse of the Stirling City Heritage Trust, one of seven City Heritage Trusts across Scotland which promote the heritage and care of the built environment of Scottish cities.

7The concern for historic buildings in an urban environment has shifted over time, and since the 1970s. Historian of architecture James Legard takes the example of the restoration of Bute House and neighbouring buildings, situated in Edinburgh’s New Town, to demonstrate the changing values associated with the care and presentation of historic buildings. After the transfer of this property to the National Trust for Scotland in the 1970s, a Georgian House Museum was created in an original eighteenth-century Robert Adam townhouse. Legard shows how this transfer and the politics of conservation served the agenda of the Establishment, including the Kirk, in the face of major social, political, and economic changes in the UK.

8The following contribution then turns to the more recent past, analysing a significant contemporary effort to promote Scotland’s arts, culture, and heritage. Museum curator Kirsty Hassard sets the regeneration project of the V&A Dundee in the context of the city’s active involvement in institutions and public art programmes as a means to tackle the challenges posed by post-industrial urban transformations. Building on her understanding of Dundee’s social and economic evolution, Hassard questions the impact of the “Bilbao effect” on local communities. On the one hand, the museum has offered a new attractiveness to the city which became a UNESCO City of Design. On the other hand, Hassard maintains that despite the museum’s outreach programme, it remains separated from the main core of the city on the other side of the river, where pockets of economically deprived areas subsist.

9Edinburgh was the first UNESCO City of Literature established in 2004. Here, the City of Literature Trust, in collaboration with other key stakeholders and researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier, is currently seeking to establish a ‘literary quarter’ on the Royal Mile. The aim is to give literary activities a permanent physical presence for the benefit of residents and visitors. In partial fulfilment of this aim, and working with its partners, the Trust is repurposing John Knox House as a ‘Literature House’, intended to act as a focus for Scottish writing. In their conversation about the “Literature House in Edinburgh”, James Loxley and Tara Thomson give an account of the local conditions which have allowed the project to emerge, and how it has fitted in the local geography and contemporary national culture. On a local level, they address questions of community inclusion, such as the participation of the local community versus the thriving literary tourism to the Scottish capital. And lastly, the academics address questions over the future of this literary heritage project.

10Questions of past and future engrained in heritage politics also underly Karl Magee’s commentary on John Grierson’s documentary The Heart of Scotland from 1962. The University of Stirling Archives holds the personal papers of this founding father of British documentary film, who also produced many promotional films for The Empire Marketing Board and Films for Scotland. From the perspective of the archivist, Karl Magee examines how Grierson’s contribution to a vision of Scotland’s urban heritage is reflected in the archival material. The cultural – and national – value of such personal archives is underlined by the fact that the Grierson Archive not only laid the foundation for the first Film and Media Studies Department in Scotland, but also the wider archival collections of Stirling University, serving as a nucleus that attracted the papers of other Scottish filmmakers.

11The centrality of culture and the arts as catalyst for social change is the focus of the fourth contribution by practitioners from the heritage industries. As part of Stirling’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2025, Stirling Makar Laura Fyfe joined forces with Scene Stirling, a collaborative initiative by the city’s arts and cultural partners, to invite people across the area to unleash their creativity and share their twenty-five words for 2025. The collective poem “Kin Kennings” celebrates Stirling’s rich culture and creative spirit; it was accompanied by a video as well as a projection onto the National Wallace Monument promoting further the city’s innovation in the creative industries. The project is reflected upon from four perspectives: the poet, the film director, a member of Stirling Council and of the bid team.

12This way that public memory in the future cities can become fluid social spaces that stand in contestation with a more official i.e. national notion of the past emerges from Kirsten Carter McKee’s analysis of recent political and economic, rather than cultural, interrogations of Scotland’s imperial past. This not only considers how colonialism and empire have (physically) shaped Scotland’s urban realm, but also revisions the cities’ world-wide networks as well as Scottish transnational connections through global diasporas. Carter McKee concludes that much remains to be done to better articulate the impact of empire in heritage discourse, which is still dominated by a white-male and top-down approach even when Scotland, as civic nation, seeks to address anti-racist practice.

13Together, the diverse interpretations of this journal bring valuable approaches to the continuing debates over identity, nationality, and culture in Scotland. They also show the enduring importance of cities in Scotland’s sense of identity. Clarisse Godard Desmarest and Nora Plesske, the editors of this special issue on Cities in Scotland: Cultural Heritage and National Identity, will summarise some recurring concerns and outline notable perspectives for further study in their coda.

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Electronic reference

Clarisse Godard Desmarest and Nora Plesske, Video Introduction to Issue 16 Angles [Online], 16 | 2023, Online since 01 June 2023, connection on 15 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Clarisse Godard Desmarest

Senior Lecturer in British Studies at the University of Picardie Jules Verne (Amiens, France) and an emeritus fellow of the Institut Universitaire de France. She is author of numerous publications on the history of Scottish architecture and culture, and editor of The New Town of Edinburgh: An Architectural Celebration (2019). Her work has embraced a diversity of topics including the role of women in architecture, the history of the tenement in Scotland and France, the Baronial in nineteenth-century Edinburgh, and other aspects of early modern and modern Scotland. Her monograph on The Building of the Royal High School, Edinburgh: History, Heritage and Education in Scotland (18th-21st centuries) is forthcoming. Her current research focuses on William Burn (1789-1870), the prolific and neglected Scottish architect. This study, supported by an EU Marie Curie Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh (2021-23), articulates debates over style and national identity in Britain and beyond. Contact: clarisse.godarddesmarest[at]

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Nora Plesske

Senior Lecturer in Anglophone Cultural and Literary Studies at the University of Magdeburg and 2023-2024 Interim Professor for English Literature at Bamberg University in Germany. She studied International Business and Cultural Studies at the University of Passau where she also obtained a PhD in English Studies. Her doctoral thesis The Intelligible Metropolis: Urban Mentality in Contemporary London Novels (2014) was awarded the Helene-Richter-Prize by the German Association for the Study of English. She has since published widely in the areas of urban cultural studies and co-edited the collection Transforming Cities: Discourses of Urban Change (2018). Her interest in urban heritage correlates with her second major research focus on material culture studies. Currently, she is preparing a monograph entitled Colonial Objects: Translocation in the Second British Empire for publication. Contact: nora.plesske[at]

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