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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

Introduction

Texte intégral

  • 1 Samuel Johnson in J. Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson: Comprehending an Account of His Studies (...)

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library, to make one book.”1

1The idea for this book started with the observation that sections devoted to Scotland in British history books published in France were far too often extremely limited, despite Scottish history and culture having played a fundamental role in the development of Great Britain and the United Kingdom. The main purpose of this volume is thus to demonstrate, through a variety of texts covering a vast historical period and from diverse sources (parliamentary reports, letters, memoirs, excerpts of books, newspaper articles, oral testimonies, and related materials) that Scotland cannot be reduced to the traditional images of kilt and bagpipe. In other words, it should be considered a nation whose religious, social, political, and cultural history is both rich and fascinating.

2This book is not intended as a history of Scotland; providing a comprehensive view of the richness and diversity of the history of the Scottish nation in three hundred pages would be to attempt the impossible. Rather, I take a middle ground of sorts with contextual chapter introductions to primary documents, grouped thematically, to help make the texts comprehensible to a general reader (and to one with no specialized knowledge of Scottish history).

3As can be imagined, the selection of which sources to leave in or out of this reader has been difficult, even painful, at times. I also had to choose the particular historical period and chose 1707 to 2007 as they are significant for at least two reasons in the history of the Scottish nation: in May 1, 1707, the Scottish Parliament was dissolved and the combined parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain was created; on May 3, 2007, the Scottish National Party surged to a historic victory and became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament. Nevertheless, history does not really like to be divided into periods that might be seen as arbitrary or even artificial. As a result, I start my selection with a text from 1704 and finish with one from 2008.

4Some texts are longer than others – such as the 1935 Scotsman article on an anti-Catholic demonstration (Text 112) or the opening ceremony of the Scottish Parliament in July 1999 (Text 90). These texts would have lost some of their essential meaning had I decided to present an abridged version of them. Other texts could have been inserted in different chapters, which is the case for Dr. Walker’s report (Text 32): it appears in the Highlands chapter but could also have been included in the section on religion (Chapter 3). The same could also be said for the extract of Charles Laing Warr’s speech (Text 109), which appears in the chapter about religion and sectarianism (but which also could have been included in the section on World War I, Chapter 15).

5Some changes have also been made to the original spelling of the texts such as replacing of the long “s” (which was used in the eighteenth century at the beginning and in the middle of words) by the short “s” (used during the period at the end of words). The unusual – and incorrect – spelling of some texts has been maintained with one particularly telling example in the letter by William Jack, a Jacobite soldier who was imprisoned after the battle of Culloden in 1746 (Text 11).

  • 2 P. Novick, That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession, Ca (...)

6To the reader, it will rapidly become apparent that the topics chosen make plain certain personal preferences, perhaps even prejudices. It may be a truism to say that a historian’s work is, in essence, bound to express some subjectivity. It suffices here to remember how the American historian Peter Novick has described the attempt at writing objective history: “nailing jelly to the wall.”2 I have often chosen to let common people speak – those people whose voice is seldom heard in traditional history books. Any book written about the history of the Scottish nation that would leave aside such significant events as the Union of Parliaments in 1707, the Jacobite risings of the first half of the eighteenth century, the Highland clearances, or the process of devolution would most definitely be described as incomplete. But a book about the history of Scotland in which the voices of the elites would be the only ones to be heard would be just as incomplete. This is why I hope that the reader will delight in the account of a Jacobite prisoner, a letter written by a former Glasgow prostitute who emigrated to the United States, a letter from a Highland emigrant who became an Australian gold digger, an excerpt of the diary kept by a World War I soldier, the account of a Dundee miner, or the memories of a Glasgow housewife.

  • 3 A. Triulzi, quoted in J. Le Goff., Histoire et Mémoire, (1977), Paris: Gallimard, 1988, p. 176.

7It is possible to argue that all of these figures did not take part in the writing of Scotland’s official history, but it would be hard to deny that these people did not belong to the history of the Scottish nation. Consequently, it is essential to give them a proper place they deserve in the reader. We must not forget after all that popular memories, though often fragmented and problematic, constitute one of the fundamental elements of identity in any community. Family memories and local histories constitute “a vast network of unofficial, non institutionalized knowledge […] which somehow represents the collective consciousness of entire groups (families, villages) or individuals (memories and personal experiences) and which acts as a counterbalance to knowledge privatized and monopolized by specific groups for the defence of specific interests.”3

  • 4 These words are borrowed from Arlette Farge whose book is devoted to the pleasure of conducting re (...)

8Finally, this type of scholarship could not have been put together without consultation of a wide array of secondary sources whose references can be found in the bibliography. Extant collections of Scottish texts also proved to very helpful in the book’s development. Hopefully, my “wandering among words written by others”4 in certain marvellous temples to knowledge (the National Archives of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland) will ultimately lend new life to those fragments of the past without which it is impossible to understand the present.

Notes

1 Samuel Johnson in J. Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson: Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works in Chronological Order: a Series of His Epistolary Correspondence and Conversations with Many Eminent Persons: and Various Original Pieces of His Composition, Never Before Published, vol. 2, London: T. Cadell, 1822, p. 331.

2 P. Novick, That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 1.

3 A. Triulzi, quoted in J. Le Goff., Histoire et Mémoire, (1977), Paris: Gallimard, 1988, p. 176.

4 These words are borrowed from Arlette Farge whose book is devoted to the pleasure of conducting research in the archives. (A. Farge, Le Goût de l’archive, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1989, p. 147).

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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