Historic Holiday- Clans, Tartans, and Edwardian Postcards

As a Canadian student completing my postgraduate degree in Scotland, I wanted to create something that not only taught me more about my host country, but could also be a tribute to the culture and people of Scotland as well. While trying to decide on a project that fit these criteria I came across a selection of postcards in the Dumfries Museum collection labelled "Clans and Tartans". Being a tourist myself, I decided an exhibition created around Scottish history and tourism would be a good idea for a project, and the idea for "A Historic Holiday" was born.  The term clan means "family" or "child" in Gaelic, although this is a misnomer, as clan members were not necessarily related to their clan chief. The majority of clan members were people who lived on the chief's land as farmers and merchants while he acted as judge and lord. This system was shattered during the Jacobite Uprisings of 1745, when the troops of King George II defeated the Jacobite Army at the Battle of Culloden in April of 1746. Although this saw the dissolution of the clan system, many people with Scottish ancestry still feel a connection to their roots and express pride in their heritage with clan tartans.  The origins of tartan can be traced back to the Celts, who were known to have woven striped cloth. It is believed that this type of weaving was introduced to North-West Britain when the Iron Age Celtic, or Scoti, from Ireland arrived in Britain from the 5th-6th Century BC. Contrary to popular belief, the colours used in tartans were chosen based on location rather than any hidden meaning. The local weaver only had certain plants available depending on where he was living, and so the dyes made from these local plants would be the colours most commonly worn among the locals who lived in that area. However, clans with a lot of red in their tartan may have been showing their wealth, as red dye was very expensive throughout the Middle Ages (1100 to 1499 AD.) Due to the similarities in the colours used, tartans were not a significant means of clan identification. Clan badges, which were usually a type of plant, were a much stronger form of clan identification. Each clan has a plant associated with them, and they would wear pieces of this plant in their bonnet, making them recognizable to their fellow clansmen. The concept of tartans as a means of clan identification did not begin until the 1800s, when clans began to register tartans under their name. Once a clan tartan was officially registered, it meant that only families with a lineage, called a sept, were eligible to wear certain tartans. Many of the clans presented in this exhibition include information about what families are eligible to wear these tartans. Nowadays however, there is no strict rule about what tartan you choose to wear. The uses of tartan have changed significantly over the years. After the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden Moor, the wearing of tartan was restricted, and any man caught wearing it could be fined or even imprisoned for up to six months. This law was repealed in 1782, and many members of the aristocracy and middle classes began wearing tartan, making it a popular fashion statement. The popularity of tartan continued to grow during the Victorian Era, when Queen Victoria had several official portraits done of her wearing tartan during her holidays in Balmoral. Tartan quickly became a symbol of holidays in the Highlands, with people eager to show evidence of their travels. This trend continues today, with tourists buying anything tartan related from bags, skirts, kilts and postcards. This exhibition is presenting postcards from the Edwardian Period (1901-1910), with the theme of clans and tartans, in order to explore the history of Scottish clans, and the variety of tartans found throughout Scotland. The postcards in this exhibit are primarily from the Clan Tartan Heraldic Series (1905-17), as well as Raphael Tuck & Sons Postcards, Scottish Clans Series IV & VI, Oilettes (1908-1914) .These "Oilettes" include images made to look like oil paintings with noticeable brushstrokes. Examples of this unique style are on the Macintosh, Sutherland, and Munro postcards. The use of tartans and their associated clans on postcards has allowed locals and tourists alike to share a piece of Scottish heritage around the world, ensuring that the legends of Scottish clans lives on. The postcards selected for this exhibition were chosen by Christine De Brabandere (Museum Intern, 2018), a Canadian student, who completed her Museum and Gallery Studies degree with us.  
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