Back to the Book

When I signed my book contract in February, I wrote that I hoped to blog on the experience of completing The First Scottish Enlightenment. Predictably, term-time intervened and I’ve had little enough progress to report over the last few months. Now that marking is (mostly) over, though, and I have only one or two pressing deadlines to keep me occupied, I thought I would return to the subject and say a little about what I’ve been doing and what I’m planning to do.

For the last year or so I’ve found myself mapping my research and writing schedule ever more meticulously. I’d set longterm goals for myself before, but the sobering sight of the Historian from The Historian’s Desk preparing a colour-coded thirty-six week thesis completion plan and then completing it on the dot encouraged me to be more precise and detailed than I had been previously. Now I draw up a week-by-week plan at the beginning of each semester and at the start of the summer holiday, laying out what I know or can anticipate about my teaching and administrative responsibilities and trying to fit research around those in a reasonably sensible way. I can think of many friends who would find this an appalling way to live life, but for me it helps maintain equilibrium, lets me know what I ought to be doing and when, and gives a larger view of projects and how they’ll be completed.

A couple of weeks ago, then, I did this for the coming summer. While the new book is far from being the only project I need to be getting on with over the next few months, it’s certainly the main one and much of my planning consisted of deciding (a) how much I could reasonably expect to write, (b) which chapters I wanted to write, and (c) what I needed to do to make that happen. In terms of how much, I wavered between three and four chapters as an ideal goal, eventually settling on four. That’s a lot to get done in four months, I know, and it may not happen, so in settling on the which I decided to focus on chapters for which I’d already finished (or almost finished) the research and for which I had substantial notes, outlines, or even portions already to hand.

The chapter I want to write first looks at the new forms of textual scholarship developed by the Congregation of Saint Maur in France, their peak in the works of Jean Mabillon (1632-1707), and their reception in Scotland from the 1690s through the 1750s. I’m planning to organise it around a series of key texts and events which were, I think, definitive in conditioning how Maurist scholarship was received by Scots: the stage-managed “verification” of a medieval charter before the Jacobite court in 1694, James Anderson’s lifelong attempt to create a Scottish guide to diplomatic along the lines of Mabillon’s De re diplomatica, Patrick Abercromby and Robert Keith’s histories of late medieval and reformation Scotland, the long-running debate over the legitimacy of Robert III (which was, of course, not really about the legitimacy of a fourteenth-century king at all, but about forms of government and their implications), and, finally, the creation of a series of forgeries of medieval documents by Marianus Brockie.

Mabillon

A bust of one of the key figures of the next chapter, Jean Mabillon, in one of its key locations, the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris (courtesy French Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0).

It’s a chunky beast, to be sure, but it’s one that’s central to my larger argument and which I’ve already put quite a lot of thought into. I’m aiming to have a draft complete by the end of May. Fingers crossed . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

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