The Future of Early Modern Scottish Studies

What a great conference!  I probably shouldn’t say that quite so unreservedly, given that I was one of the organisers, but last weekend’s conference on “The Future of Early Modern Scottish Studies” really did exceed all expectations.  Over two days we had twenty-two speakers from across Europe and America, two roundtable discussions, five debate-filled coffee breaks, and an absolutely fantastic evening courtesy of the Byre and the St Andrews Brewing Company (neither of which, I suspect, have quite the same concentration of fowk gabbin in braid Scots maist Fryday nichts).

The general roundtable: “where do we go from here?”

I can’t even begin to single out particular papers for praise – they were all excellent and on such a wide variety of exciting topics: newly-discovered religious poetry, forgotten chapters in Scottish art history, blackness, globalisation, Scots at home, abroad, the Privy Council, a recently recovered legal manuscript, and many, many more.  What had been less obvious to me before the conference, though, but which became very obvious as we went on were the larger trends in what people were studying and how they were studying it.  Scottish studies (history, especially) has a long and distinguished tradition of focusing on the country’s political and economic contexts, so it was surprising – and exciting! – to see an overwhelming majority of papers focusing on Scotland’s cultural history and, more than anything, on the history of its texts, both printed and in manuscript.  As someone who, after carrying on a lengthy flirtation with the label of “intellectual historian”, has gradually settled into the role of being a cultural historian, that was very exciting, indeed.

Jamie Reid-Baxter kicking off the conference on Friday morning with a cracking paper on religious poetry in early seventeenth-century Fife.

What was also exciting was the level of energy in the room.  People were brimming over with ideas, with plans, with projects and it was impossible not to come away with the impression that early modern Scottish studies are currently more vibrant than ever.  You can get a sense of some of that energy if you look at the live-tweeting on the hashtag #EMScots2017.  Certainly it left me feeling incredibly buoyed up and positive about where our field is going.

If you missed the conference and wished you’d had the chance to listen to a paper or two, don’t worry!  Part of our plan from the beginning was to record and make freely available on the conference website the majority of the papers presented and we’ll be moving forward with that in the coming months.  An edited volume is also in the works and I’m very hopeful that the momentum the conference has generated will be sustained well into the future, whether by its subsequent outputs or by the links and friends formed during those two days.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

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