Scotland: a civilised nation?

The French philosopher Voltaire is quoted as saying in the 1760s that “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation”. What did that mean then, and what might it mean today and in the future? What makes up a civilised nation and is Scotland one? And, looking forward, what words or descriptions might we use to capture our aspirations for society and culture in the future?

As part of the Scotland 2030 project, the Futures Forum has appointed two Fellows from the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities. As doctoral researchers in Literature and History, their work at the Forum over the next few months will provide some context for thinking about Scotland’s future.

Bringing her expertise in the Scottish Enlightenment, Nicola Martin will be interrogating the terminology associated with the project, investigating the history of the idea of a ‘civilised nation’. She will also be looking at the role technology played in establishing Scotland’s reputation as a ‘civilised nation’ during the Enlightenment, in order to contextualise discussions about the potential role of new technologies in Scotland’s future.

Voltaire on Scotland

Drawing on insights from the Environmental Humanities, Eleanore Widger will be investigating the cultural significance of space, place and landscape in Scotland, looking at how literary and other cultural representations of the landscape have shaped Scotland’s identity. She will also reflect on how these representations continue to influence the attitudes we hold and the decisions we make about landscape and environment in Scotland today, and how this might help inform future thinking.

In partnership with Young Scot, Nicola and Eleanore will also be gathering the opinions of young people from around Scotland on these issues, to gain an understanding of what it means to them to be a ‘civilised nation’. A two-stage survey process will invite young people to reflect on the utility of terms such as ‘civilised’; to share their both their personal and societal aspirations and concerns for 2030, and to offer their insights into the potential place of technology and environment in Scotland’s future.

The Fellows look forward to sharing their findings on the Forum website, in events associated with the project, and reports to be published towards the end of their tenure. 

Scotland 2030