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Portraits of Scotland

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

Using portraits and images of key figures in Scottish history, this course will examine these figures’ impact on contemporary events, and how they have influenced later perceptions and interpretations of Scottish history and identity.

This course will examine how images of key people from Scotland’s past – military leaders, royalty and poets - have influenced Scottish history and identity. The course will use portraits and other forms of visual representation as key sources.

Each week a brief biography of two key figures linked by time and/or circumstances, will be covered while the main focus of the session will be a discussion of impact, deliberate or circumstantial, of these figures on Scottish history and identity. Changing historiographical interpretations will be covered. Using images and portraits – some of which were created many years later – the course will consider how visual representations, rather than the individuals themselves, often developed their own legacy and have been used to create imagined history and identity.

Please note, this course includes a field trip (a visit Scottish National Portrait Gallery).

Course Details

Content of Course

The course is organised into chronological and thematic sessions.

Students will first be introduced to portraits relating to the medieval period, looking at figures such as William Wallace and Robert Bruce, iconic leaders during the long years of war against England. The legacy of this formative period and the sometimes misleading depiction in art will be discussed.

The Stewart house allows for discussion of monarchy, and particularly of queenship in portraiture, at a time of huge cultural and political change in Scotland.

Monarchy will be further examined through portraits such as those of Henry, Prince of Wales and Charles I: the prince who was meant to be king and the prince who became king. How are personalities and reigns depicted?

Literature and culture in portraiture will be explored, for example, through Robert Burns and Walter Scott. Their impact on Scottish culture and history and ultimately identity is enormous, but how are have their images been used to represent Scotland and sell ‘Scotland the brand’?

Finally, a visit to SNPG will give students an opportunity to examine portraits first hand, to collate ideas from the course and to give further consideration to the impact of portraits in a public setting.

Teaching method(s)

Students will learn about key events and people from Scottish history through lectures. They will then have an opportunity to discuss their lives and reputations by considering how visual representations – paintings and sculptures – have affected and influenced later interpretations and assessments. 

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Outline key events related to the lives and times of the people covered in the course;

  • Demonstrate familiarity with images and representations of the course subjects;

  • Assess how images and representations have been modified to reflect changing ideas and sensibilities, and have themselves created myths;

  • Discuss critically their influence on, and contributions to, Scottish history and identity.


Core Readings


There are many biographies and studies of the subjects covered which students may wish to consult at their leisure.

  • M Lynch, M. 1992. Scotland A New History.  London: Pimlico

  • Brown, D., Findlay, R.J., Lynch, M., 1998. Image and Identity: Making and re-making of Scotland through the ages. Edinburgh: John Donald.

  • Bhandri, K., 2014. Tourism and national identity: heritage and nationhood in Scotland. Bristol: ChannelView Publications

  • Ferguson, W., 1998. Identity of the Scottish Nation: a historic quest. Edinburgh: EUP

  • Mitchison, R., 1978. ‘Patriotism and national identity in eighteenth-century Scotland’ in T. M. Moody, ed. Nationality and the Pursuit of National Independence. Edinburgh: Appletree Press.

  • Ewan, E., Campbell, J., Paterson, H., eds., 2011. The Shaping of Scottish Identities: family, nation and the worlds beyond. Guelph, Ontario: The Centre for Scottish Studies

  • Macmillan, D., 2000. Scottish Art: 1460-2000. Edinburgh: Mainstream.

  • Marshall, R., 1986. Costume in Scottish Portraits 1560- 1830 Edinburgh: NGS.

  • Various, 2011. Portrait of the nation. Edinburgh: NGS.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.