Travel bursaries will expand cultural horizons

Awards reflect outward-looking tradition, says Jim Tough

Fife born Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in America before returning home to Scotland. Picture: AP

Over the centuries, Scotland has always been an outward-looking nation reaching out to other countries and cultures across the globe. Sometimes economic necessity has forced large numbers to leave these shores, sometimes it’s been war. Historically, certain Scottish forays overseas have also had more dubious outcomes, such as the ill-fated Darien scheme to establish a colony in Panama or the enrichment of many Scottish merchants through slavery.

But a genuine spirit of exploration and discovery has prompted many more to venture abroad and expand their cultural horizons. This natural wanderlust has had a profound impact on Scottish culture and society, stretching back to the Scottish Enlightenment and far beyond.

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Equally, be it through travel or emigration, many native Scots have influenced the cultural evolution of other nations across the world. Celebrated Scottish philosopher David Hume spent four of his formative years in France, where he had frequent discourse with the Jesuits of the college of La Flèche in Anjou. His contemporary, the economist Adam Smith, also spent years travelling through mainland Europe, where he met many well-known intellectual leaders of the time. These experiences undoubtedly made a significant impression on both men and greatly influenced their most celebrated and enduring work.

Iconic Scottish women Elsie Inglis and Mary Slessor spent much of their lives abroad, respectively tackling disease and child neglect while exerting huge influence on the cultural life of their own country.

Fife-born Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in the American steel industry, but in later life returned to Scotland, investing considerable sums in a variety of philanthropic endeavours. Opening the first Carnegie Library in his home town of Dunfermline in 1883, he eventually funded around 3,000 public libraries worldwide. His philanthropic legacy lives on in the form of the Dunfermline-based Carnegie UK Trust, which celebrated its centenary last year.

Naturalist John Muir, who died 100 years ago this year, emigrated from Scotland to the United States in 1849 and famously petitioned the US Congress to adopt the National Park Bill, establishing the Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. As a committed preservationist, Muir has been called the “patron saint of the American wilderness”.

With this enduring legacy in mind, the Saltire Society and British Council Scotland are proud to be able to launch the 2014 Saltire International Travel Awards. These awards offer graduates in five cultural disciplines the opportunity to win a £1,500 travel bursary that will allow them to explore the world beyond these shores and to expand their educational and cultural horizons.

In 2013, graduating students of creative writing, architecture, music and visual arts and crafts competed for one of these exciting awards. This year, we are expanding the scheme to include civil engineering, taking the total number of bursaries to be won to five.

Last year’s visual art winner, Moray School of Art student Jamie Davidson, has used his bursary to visit Japan to study the country’s natural and built architecture and is undertaking a short course in Japanese water-based woodblock printmaking.

In the 2013 architecture category, winners Woodlands Densified, a collective of four Glasgow School of Architecture students, have proposed to use their bursary to visit four different housing schemes in four different countries, contributing to their final year design theses.

Creative-writing bursary winner Katherine Lockton is currently visiting her mother’s home country of Bolivia where, aged three, an accidental fall from the seventh-storey apartment of her aunt had a life-changing effect on her. As well as exploring the impact of this event through poetry, Katherine hopes to lead creative writing workshops at the University of La Paz, comparing and contrasting Scottish and Latin American literary traditions.

Last year’s music category winner was Innes White, a native Gaelic speaker and folk guitarist. Innes has travelled to Catalonia to study the Catalan language, music and dance, giving demonstrations of Scottish folk music and drawing comparisons between the two traditions.

The creativity of Scottish society has always been spurred by the links its people have successfully forged with other countries and cultures throughout the world. Once again this year, the Saltire International Travel Awards will provide a fantastic opportunity for talented Scots to broaden their life experience, to learn new skills and to meet new people through international travel.

• Jim Tough is the executive director of the Saltire Society