Scottish Towns and Urban Society in the Age of the Enlightenment, c.1745-1820
An AHRC-funded research collaboration between the universities of Oxford and Dundee
Scottish towns changed dramatically during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They grew in size, and altered in character. But was there, in relation to England over the course of the 'long' eighteenth century, what has been described as an 'urban renaissance'?
Historians know a great deal about Scotland's larger towns during this period - industrialising Glasgow, and the mushrooming manufacturing town of Paisley, and the more balanced growth of places like Edinburgh, and Aberdeen. Much less is known however about the middling-sized and smaller places, with populations ranging from 1,000 to 10,000. It was in towns such as these that most of Scotland's expanding urban population lived. Some of these places have been studied in some depth - in the doctoral work of Dundee PhD students such as Paula Martin (Cupar) and David Alston (Cromarty), for example. Dundee has been subject to close investigation, the results of which were published in Victorian Dundee: Image and Realities (2000), with a further volume, on the late medieval and early modern burgh, due for publication in 2008. The initiator of this AHRC-project, Bob Harris, formerly (until 2006) at Dundee, now Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, piloted a systematic, in-depth study of the main Angus burghs, which was published in Urban History, and won the H J Dyos prize for the best article in urban history submitted to that journal in 2006. The methodology used for the Angus burghs' study will be adapted to form the basis for Oxford-Dundee AHRC-funded project.
The principal aim of this project is to ask what happened in the smaller Scottish towns (a sample size of thirty is proposed, selected in part on the basis of their location and function). The time-frame is c.1745-1820, that is prior to what appears to have been a new - and arguably uglier phase in Scottish urban development, associated with the industrial revolution. There are several research questions, at the heart of which is the issue of what happened, and when. Were there distinctive features of Scotland's urban development?
The main analytical tool will be the concept of 'improvement'. What did it mean, as a process and as an end in itself? What did contemporaries understand by the term? Issues to be examined include the drivers of urban growth and change - the nature and pace of economic development for instance; urban lifestyle, characteristics and urban identity (or identities); physical and spatial changes; social polarisation; town governance and the creation of order; and the incidence and nature of disorder.
The three-year project has attracted a grant of just over £600K. Two research assistants have been recruited, one of whom will be based in Oxford, the other at Dundee. The project team, led by Bob Harris, with co-investigators Professors Charles McKean and Christopher Whatley, are aiming to produce a substantial monograph and a series of scholarly articles. Asn international conference will also be organised, and a database of household inventories will be generated, to be hosted by the National Archives of Scotland.
Bob Harris, Fellow, Worcester College, University of Oxford. Bob is a prolific historian who has written on many aspects of British politics and social and cultural history in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Amongst his main publications are A Patriot Press (Oxford, 1993), and Politics and the Nation: Britain in the mid-eighteenth century (Oxford, 2002), in addition to a stream of important articles in prestigious journals, chapters in books and works as an editor. Amongst the last category is Victorian Dundee: Image and Realities (2000), to which he also contributed chapters.
Charles McKean, FRSE, Professor of Architectural History, University of Dundee. Charles is the pre-eminent historian of Scottish buildings and towns - he has written a number of books on individual burghs published by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, and more recently has collaborated on several Historic Scotland-funded urban studies, including Tain and Whithorn. Amongst Charles's other recent publications of note are The Battle for the North: the Tay and Forth Bridges in 19th-century Scotland (Granta, 2006), and The Scottish Chateau (Sutton, 2002). With Bob Harris and Christopher Whatley, he is editor of the forthcoming volume on Dundee 1500-1800.
Christopher Whatley, FRSE, Professor of Scottish History, University of Dundee. Chris is primarily an historian of eighteenth century Scotland - its economy and society, and, more recently, Scottish politics - of the Union. Amongst recent publications are Scottish Society, 1707-1830: beyond Jacobitism, towards industrialisation (Manchester, 2000), and The Scots and the Union (Edinburgh, 2006, 2007). He led the Victorian Dundee research team.
Dr Robin Usher (Research Assistant, Oxford). Robin graduated with a degree in history and the history of art and architecture from Trinity College, Dublin. More recently he has recently completed and defended his PhD thesis - at the University of Cambridge, 'Power, display and the symbolic terrains of Protestant Dublin, c.1660-1760'. He has a number of publications in press, including a chapter on 'Reading Architecture: St Andrews Church and the politics of religion in Restoration Dublin' (2008), and is preparing a review article, 'Material Ireland, 1650-1850', for the Historical Journal (2008).
Dr Nathalie Rosset (Research Assistant, Dundee). Nathalie graduated with a degree in language and foreign civilisation from the University of Lyon (1999). She then studied for a MPhil in social history at Glasgow before embarking upon and successfully completing her AHRC-funded PhD at the University of Dundee (begun at Strathclyde). Her thesis title was 'The "Physiological Turn" of Scottish Philosophy: the Scottish Enlightenment, the Body, and Popular Philosophy in the early Nineteenth Century'. Nathalie has had an article on blackface minstrelsy drawn from her doctoral work published in Rethinking History (2005), with others forthcoming.