Christian Auer, Scotland and the Scots 1707-2007: A Reader
Christian Auer, Scotland and the Scots 1707-2007: A Reader, Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013, 386 p. ISBN: 9782868205513
- 1 Michael Lynch (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Scottish History, Oxford University Press, 2001, vi.
1As noted by Scottish historian Michael Lynch, there has been a ‘remarkable advance of knowledge [on Scotland’s history] over the course of the past generation’1. Equally notable have been the efforts made by leading historians such as Lynch to make this knowledge accessible to the wider public. Such efforts have led to the publication of several excellent one-volume histories of Scotland, including Lynch’s own Scotland: A New History (first published in 1991), R. A. Houston and W. W. J. Knox’s New Penguin History of Scotland (2001) and the updated edition of Christopher Harvie’s Scotland: A Short History (2014). Concerning Scotland’s history since its Union with England, Tom Devine’s The Scottish Nation: A Modern History (2012) is invaluable. Much less numerous are the one-volume editions of Scottish primary sources, on the model of Gordon Donaldson’s Scottish Historical Documents, first published in 1970. Christian Auer’s recent volume entitled Scotland and the Scots 1707-2007: A Reader is therefore a welcome addition to what remains a small group of collections of non-fictional Scottish texts.
2As the title indicates, Auer’s volume starts where Gordon Donaldson had stopped: at the Union with England, in 1707. It is perhaps unfortunate that the author does not explain why he chose to focus exclusively on Scotland’s three centuries of history within the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the introduction merely stating that the year 1707 was a ‘significant’ one. However, the relatively limited timescale allows him to present a selection of texts taken from a wide range of sources (from Parliamentary Papers and Royal Commission reports, to broadsides and oral history interviews), which would have been impossible in a volume attempting to offer primary sources dating back to the birth of Scotland in the Middle Ages. The volume also investigates a wide range of topics, on which we are often given to read conflicting viewpoints. In addition to classic debates such as those on the Union of 1707 (17–26) or on slavery (69–72), Auer’s book sheds light on lesser-known debates, such as the discussions over the living conditions of the Highland poor in the mid-19th century (167–72). This confrontation of viewpoints makes for a fascinating read and allows the reader to get a feel for the debates and tensions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
3The work is organised both chronologically and thematically, and it looks at turning points in Scotland’s history (such as the Jacobite risings or the Highland Clearances) as well as long-term evolutions, be they political, social, economic or religious. Moreover, it delves into historical episodes that are specifically Scottish (for instance the series of industrial and social struggles known as ‘Red Clydeside’, in the years 1915–22, or the ‘Disruption’, i.e. the schism of 1843 in the Established Church), as well as the Scottish versions of British-wide (or European) events and phenomena, such as the fight for the suffrage, the reform of poor relief, the human consequences of the Industrial Revolution and the two World Wars.
4The book’s structure is impeccable. It is divided in three parts, each devoted to a different century. Each part opens on a timeline of the century, followed by five or six chapters with short, often one-word titles that clearly indicate the topic. Finally, each chapter is made up of a general introduction and a selection of extracts from primary sources, themselves preceded by individual introductions presenting the author, the source or the precise event concerned. It is notable that even the general introductions always include quotations from primary sources that complement those selected in the chapters.
- 2 The author has written or co-written two volumes on Scottish women: Luttes et résistances des femme (...)
5The two parts covering the 18th and 19th centuries are of particular interest, because the texts are less easily available to the general public than more recent ones, and perhaps also because of the author’s own strengths and specialisation in 19th–century Scottish and British history.2 The volume is also particularly valuable to those readers interested in the history of women, which is another of the author’s fields of studies. One cannot be indifferent, for instance, to the letter dated 23 June 1838 and addressed by an anonymous woman to the ‘Women of Scotland’, in which she expresses her delight to see them ‘taking up the cause of Radicalism, and the cause of Truth’ and urging them not to listen to ‘those who tell you that a woman has no right to interfere in politics’ (133).
6Finally, the author’s claim (on the back cover) that he has ‘often chosen to let common people speak’ is fully justified. The volume is particularly strong on social history, particularly on the living and working conditions of ordinary people (including women and children) in the 19th century, and on living conditions in the Highlands in the 18th and 19th centuries. The pages on the Highland Clearances and emigration from the Inverness Courier—where the word ‘Clearances’ is in inverted commas and where improvement is seen as a way of taking the population out of its ‘semi-barbarous state’ (226–27)—and from the Inverness Advertiser—where we read that ‘many proprietors of land in the Hebrides, and in the destitute districts mentioned, treat the cry of the people with the most sovereign contempt’ (231) and that ‘poor creatures [are] harassed into compulsory emigration’ (246)—are particularly enlightening.
7The book is perhaps less comprehensive on recent political history, as indicated by the unsatisfactory title of chapter XIII, ‘The road to devolution’, which brings together nine texts, most of which have little to do with devolution (and two of which are from after the introduction of devolution), and by the introductory timeline, which mentions three of the four Scottish First Ministers elected between 1999 and 2007 (forgetting Henry McLeish) and only specifies the party affiliation of the fourth (why single out the SNP?). However, even in this chapter, the texts chosen are all appropriate, and they show that the selection of sources was a rigorous and thorough process.
8Christian Auer is therefore to be commended for offering us a selection of Scottish texts taken from both well-known and little-known sources, and for allowing the reader to discover or rediscover Scotland’s ‘British history’ through the words of some of the people, high and low, who lived and sometimes made it.
1 Michael Lynch (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Scottish History, Oxford University Press, 2001, vi.
2 The author has written or co-written two volumes on Scottish women: Luttes et résistances des femmes écossaises, 1838-1915, Paris : L’Harmattan, 2013, and (with Armel Dubois-Nayt and Nathalie Duclos) Femmes, pouvoir et nation en Écosse du xvie siècle à aujourd’hui, Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2012.Top of page
Nathalie Duclos, « Christian Auer, Scotland and the Scots 1707-2007: A Reader », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [Online], 84 Automne | 2016, Online since 01 November 2016, connection on 23 March 2017. URL : http://cve.revues.org/3054Top of page
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