Kith but not kin : the Highland Scots, imperial resettlement, and the negotiating of identity on the frontiers of the British Empire in the interwar years

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Forest, Timothy Steven, 1976-

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Based on archival work in England, Scotland, the United States, Canada and Australia, my dissertation expands the traditional purview of diplomatic history into the international dimensions of the social and cultural realms. My study treats doomed attempts to reconstruct previously-held notions of hierarchy and deference as encapsulated in the Empire Settlement Act (ESA) in the wake of the dramatic changes to the world order resulting from World War I. To counter the emergence of Japan as a world power, under the auspices of the ESA, British Columbia and Western Australia, the two most distant outposts of the “white” British Empire in the Pacific, imported poor Celtic farmers and militiamen from northern Scotland in an attempt to retain their “British” identity, which they felt was threatened by Japan on the one hand, the Japanese in their midst on another, and local “nationalisms” on a third. This dissertation argues that such schemes were undermined by the conflicting priorities of Britain and the Dominions, the tensions between laissez-faire and excessive centralized control, the disconnect between government, capital and labor, the valuations of self-help within highly circumscribed situations, the conflict between the themes of rejuvenation and permanent regression, the fight between an idiosyncratic rural ideal and the reality of the urbanized and industrialized world of the twentieth century, and the inconsistent application of supposedly inviolable Social Darwinist ideals. The birth and death of plans to recruit Hebridean crofters to British Columbia and Western Australia in the 1920s reveals a great deal about the fluidity surrounding concepts of identity and security in a very unstable time. The debates surrounding the status of the Hebridean Scots, especially vis-à-vis their British compatriots and the Japanese, are an extreme window through which the much wider dialogues taking place regarding the status of the British Empire both internally and on the global stage, on the changing role of race as the final determinant of one’s identity and status, and the clashes between the Victorian and the modern ways of defining and conceiving of Empire, can be viewed and debated.