Between 1760 and 1860, Scotland’s place in the world was dramatically remade. From a longstanding position at the periphery, Scotland rapidly attained a central role in European cultural life and in Britain’s industrial and imperial expansion.

This exhibition explores the lives and careers of the Scots behind this period of dramatic change. It documents the material and artistic benefits of their achievements, while also confronting the darker shadows they cast. It will show how MacPherson, Burns and Scott reinvented Scotland as a land of myth and romance; but also consider how their work could substitute comforting fictions for difficult realities.

It shows how landowners, merchants, manufacturers and technologists implemented ‘improvements’ that brought Scotland unprecedented prosperity; but also acknowledge the human and environmental costs of an economy built on empire, slavery and the destruction of traditional ways of life. And it introduces some of the soldiers, sailors, administrators, and adventurers who spread Scottish influence across the globe—figures admired by contemporaries but whose conduct is now, in some cases, controversial. The result is a vivid portrait of this richly complex, and sometimes troubling, period, both at home in Scotland and in the wider world.