Scottish History – Artifacts Through the Ages: A Ten Part Course with Dr. Alan Montgomery

Scottish History – Artifacts Through the Ages: A Ten Part Course with Dr. Alan Montgomery


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In this exciting and ambitious ten-part course, Dr. Alan Montgomery will focus on ten of his favorite historical objects, unique artifacts that help us to understand the long and complex story of Scotland. From a tiny, enigmatic Neolithic sculpture discovered in Orkney to a hidden hoard of Pictish treasure, from an imposing bronze statue of a warrior king to a book that changed the image of Scotland across the world, this course will consist of a highly personal journey through several thousand years of Scottish history. 
Our conversations will feature the lives of famous historical figures such as Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, and Bonnie Prince Charlie; and we will discuss the works of great writers and artists including Allan Ramsay, Sir Walter Scott, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Using a single object as a starting point, each lecture will focus on the time and context in which it was created, looking at the people who made and owned it, and also unpick what each artifact tells us about life in Scotland at a key moment in the evolution of this complicated, fascinating nation.
Led by a historian who has spent years studying Scotland’s past and the development of Scottish national identity, this interactive course will select ten key objects and use them to explore the story of the Scottish nation. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an insight into the development of Scottish art, literature, culture, and society.

If you're ready to explore Scotland with Dr. Montgomery in person, we invite you to explore our new Context Journey: History and Heritage of Scotland with Dr. Alan Montgomery.

Lecture One – The Orkney Venus
Discovered on the island of Papa Westray in 2009, the tiny sandstone sculpture is known as the ‘Orkney Venus’ was the first Neolithic carving of a human figure to be discovered in Scotland. Although the archipelago of Orkney is often described today as remote, the archaeological evidence suggests that it was once an important center of Neolithic culture. In this first seminar, we will discuss what the mysterious Orkney Venus and other important finds from these islands tell us about life in ancient Scotland.
Lecture Two – The Bridgeness Roman Slab
Although the worldwide fame of Hadrian’s Wall has led many people to assume that the Romans never conquered Scotland, in reality, they did – or at least, part of it. In the early 140s AD, the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius ordered both the invasion of what is now southern Scotland and the construction of a new frontier, a vast cross-country rampart now known as the Antonine Wall. In this seminar, we will focus on one of the elaborately carved ‘distance slabs’ that once decorated this imposing ancient frontier and explore the complex relationship between ancient Rome and early Scotland.
Lecture Three – The Norrie’s Law Pictish Hoard
Although the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire were long dismissed as the ‘Dark Ages’, modern research has demonstrated that they were in fact a time of great creativity and sophistication. Evidence for this can be found in the Norrie’s Law hoard, a large collection of Pictish silver discovered in Fife in 1819. While it tells us much about life in early Scotland, shedding light on the culture of the fascinating but still rather mysterious people we call the Picts, the hoard also raises many questions about why such an important treasure was buried and then apparently forgotten.
Lecture Four – The Lewis Chessmen
Discovered under mysterious circumstances amongst the sand dunes of the Isle of Lewis, the carved walrus ivory figures are known as the Lewis Chessmen are now recognized as masterpieces of medieval craftsmanship. But their origins, as well as the reason that they ended up buried on a remote beach on the Outer Hebrides, have also inspired much debate. This seminar will examine the various theories as to who created (and then lost) these charming little figures and also look at what they reveal about the important cultural links between Scotland and Europe in the medieval period.
Lecture Five –The Bannockburn Sculpture of Robert the Bruce
Today, almost seven centuries after his death, Robert the Bruce is still hailed as one of Scotland’s greatest heroes. Perhaps the best-known image of this warrior king, who bravely battled to preserve Scotland’s independence from the invading English, is the grand bronze equestrian sculpture erected near the site of the pivotal battle of Bannockburn. This week’s seminar will look at Bruce the man and Bruce the myth, discussing both his tumultuous life and his enduring legacy as a champion of Scottish freedom.
Lecture Six –The Penicuik Jewels
Named after Clerks of Penicuik, the aristocratic family who owned them for many generations, the dazzling Penicuik Jewels once belonged to Mary Queen of Scots, the beautiful but doomed monarch whose dramatic story still resonates around the world today. The glamorous gold necklace, pendant, and locket are highly decorated with pearls, enamel, and filigree, also featuring two tiny portraits thought to be of Mary and her son James. They give us a hint of Mary’s taste for extravagant finery, while also testifying to the fascination that she has inspired since her spectacular downfall and untimely death.
Lecture Seven – A Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie by Allan Ramsay
Painted at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh in 1745 at the height of the last Jacobite rebellion, the recently rediscovered canvas of Charles Edward Stuart by the esteemed Scottish artist Allan Ramsay was the only official portrait of the rebel prince created in Britain. This small but elegant painting is a striking witness to the blossoming of the arts in eighteenth-century Scotland, but also a tangible record of a charming but arrogant young man whose determined attempt to win back the throne for the Stuart dynasty almost brought down the British regime. 
Lecture Eight – James Macpherson’s ‘Ossian’
In the early 1760s, a young Highlander called James Macpherson published a series of poems that he claimed to have discovered during his travels across the north of Scotland. Apparently composed by an ancient bard called Ossian and comprising fabulous tales of heroism and romance, these verses became an enormous global success, playing a major role in kickstarting the Romantic movement and bringing countless visitors to the Highlands in search of the places that they describe. But some skeptical readers argued that these texts were not all that Macpherson claimed, giving rise to a long and heated debate regarding the authenticity of Ossian and his heroic protagonists.
Lecture Nine – William Blackhall’s Tartan Suit
For centuries, Scotland was split by a clear north-south divide, with the Gaelic-speaking, tartan-clad Highlanders held in disdain by the Scots and English-speaking Lowlanders and generally viewed as untrustworthy, violent savages. However, as the Jacobite threat dissipated and the Romantic movement gathered strength, attitudes towards Highland culture changed. This stylish tartan suit, created for a royal visit in 1822, is a wonderful example of how Lowlanders finally began to embrace Highland style, changing forever the way that Scotland would be perceived both at home and abroad.
Lecture Ten – A Charles Rennie Mackintosh Chair 
By the late nineteenth century, Glasgow was a bustling hub of the empire, a wealthy and productive city as well as a hotbed of artistic creativity. Perhaps the most important name to emerge during this period was Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose distinctive modernist style is still much admired today. Focusing on an elegant chair that he created for one of the city’s tearooms, this seminar will look at Mackintosh’s life and career and also examine the enormous impact that his work has had on modern Scottish style.

Alan Montgomery was born and raised in Scotland but has spent most of his adult life in London. Having achieved an MA in Art History at Glasgow University, he worked for many years in the art world at both an international auction house and an antique dealer. In recent years he has returned to academia, achieving an MA in Classical Civilisation in 2011, and has recently completed a Ph.D. in which he analyzed eighteenth-century attitudes towards the ancient Roman world. In addition to his work for Context Travel, Alan also writes catalog essays on Contemporary Art for a leading auctioneer. Elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 2017, his first book, entitled 'Classical Caledonia', was published by Edinburgh University Press in August 2020.

How does it work?
This is a ten-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture. All Context Conversations are advertised in Eastern Standard Time.
When will I receive the Zoom link
 Your link to enter the Zoom room will be the same for all ten sessions. It will be sent to the email address used to place your order 30 minutes prior to each lecture's start time. 
Is there a reading list in advance?
Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation. These will be provided at the course's conclusion.
How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.
How much is the course?
The course is $350 for ten lectures.
Is a recording available?
Yes. All registered participants will be sent a recording link within 48 hours of each session's conclusion.

Are there additional seminars, courses, and in-person experiences being led by Sabry Amroussi?
Yes!  Dr. Montgomery will be leading several virtual experiences in the coming weeks. Details are available here.

Additionally, he will be leading a Context Journey across Scotland in 2022. Context Journeys are multi-day, small group tours in cultural capitals all over the world. Expertly crafted to take learners to the heart of a destination, our Journeys take logistics and planning off of your plate as you uncover the history, art, and culture of your chosen destination. For additional details, please click here.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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