Kayaking and Epigraphy: A Match Made in Heaven?

A few months ago, the Historian and I were on holiday in Mull, bouncing along sheep-strewn single-track roads in our aging but faithful Honda Jazz in search of whatever antiquities we could find.  We found plenty, including a possibly unrecorded boat graveyard, dozens of pre-Clearance settlements, and a Victorian country house with a particularly delectable vegetable garden, but the most exciting discoveries weren’t on the mainland of Mull itself but in the waters to the west.

The island of Inch Kenneth (Innis Choinnich) lies at the end of Loch na Keal, off the west coat of Ulva, where the loch meets the open sea.  Visited by Johnson and Boswell, it was later the home of Unity Mitford, whose utterly disgusting mansion continues to survive on the island’s south side, and is now home more or less entirely to sheep.  It’s also the site of a medieval church and that was the goal of our visit.  We kayaked over from the sound of Ulva – a slightly nerve-wracking experience, even in reasonably good seas – and spent the better part of the morning exploring the island and its antiquities.


And such antiquities!  There were beautifully carved funeral monuments dating from the late middle ages to the nineteenth century, a sample of which you can see in the photo above.  In this post, though, I want to talk about three heavily worn but spectacular carved stones which currently lie in the midst of the Victorian graveyard and which have not, I think, been written on before.  Their inscriptions are enigmatic at best, entirely non-existent for two out of the three.  How do we interpret these stones?

The answer is through heraldry.  Each stone contains weathered but still discernible coats of arms and it is these which allow us to make some educated guesses as to their period and subjects.  Hebridean heraldry is rather unusual compared to most western European heraldic traditions but its oddity helps in this case.


To begin with the first, and easiest, above.  We have the partially damaged initials and date (“HML”, “1676”) as well as a quartered shield of which quarters two, three, and four are a tower, a birlinn, and a hand holding a cross, respectively.  These arms match those of the Macleans of Lochbuie as recorded in 1672, but the date makes me suspect that instead it belongs to a cousin of the Lochbuie family, Hector Ruadh Maclean of Coll who died in that year.


The second stone presents more of a challenge.  Once again, we’re presented with the characteristic quartered shield of Hebridean heraldry, but only the first quarter (two towers) is immediately recognisable.  Had that been all, it would have been impossible to identify this tomb, but we’re fortunate to have notes on Inchkenneth made by Duncan Macleod of Salen, Mull, in 1897 which gives us the remaining quarters (a triskele, second; a deer’s head, third; and a repeat of the two towers, fourth) as well as the now obliterated date “1758”.  The presence of the Macleod triskele may suggest that this stone belonged to a later Hector Maclean of Coll who died in 1754 and whose mother was a Macleod.


The arms are better preserved on the final stone in this sequence and appears to show a fess chequy in the first and fourth quarters, a triskele in the second, and a heart in the third.  The combination of the fess chequy of the Stewarts with the triskele common to the Macleods in a Mull context may suggest that this stone belonged to a child of Robert Stewart, 8th of Appin (died by 1739) and Isabel Macleod.  Robert’s mother was a Maclean of Coll, one of Hector Ruadh’s daughters, providing a connection to the Inch Kenneth burial ground.

What initially appeared to be three disparate stones turn out to be linked by familial ties and to represent a larger pattern of burials on the part of the Maclean family of Coll.  In turn this encourages us, I think, to consider the remarkable richness of these stones’ carvings as evidence of an island visual culture which is all too often neglected.  In 1897 Duncan Macleod saw several more stones in the vicinity which are now vanished or buried and commented on the presence of others which even then were “so worn as to render them wholly illegible”.  Instead of surprising outliers, these monuments are the fragmentary relics of an largely lost Baroque material culture of commemoration common to the gentry families of the Inner Hebrides.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Research Days

The autumn semester has begun in Stirling and while I continue to work on the book project, it’s now being juggled alongside teaching, admin, organising a research seminar, coordinating my division’s presence at university open days, printing, and all of the other duties that go to make up a semester’s workload.  Stirling, to do it justice, encourages us to keep our research and writing on track during the semester by setting aside one day a week as a “research day” in which we stay away from the office and try to achieve something other than writing lectures or marking papers.  That’s easier said than done and in the process I’ve found myself thinking more about the nature of the time we spend on individual research and writing.

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Stock photos are inherently funny and odd, but I particularly like the grim melodrama of this one, found while idly searching on the keyword “research” at pexels.com.

There’s no doubt that I work more efficiently when my time is limited.  Even though I think I became more diligent and organised about managing myself between the doctorate and post-doc, the wide open landscapes of the latter still meant that I didn’t need to feel too guilty about checking my e-mail or going out for a coffee or any of the other procrastinations that can fill up one’s time.  Now that research rubs shoulders with so many other responsibilities, though, the temptation to have that sort of leisurely progression through a working day is much less.  I was reminded of this on Friday – my first “research day” of the new term – when I realised I’d been working almost without break all day on a single project; I was so caught up in the pleasure of actually having the time to think that I’d hardly noticed the hours go by.

But there’s also a problem with assuming we can turn this sort of work on and off like a light-switch.  One of the biggest difficulties I find in keeping up with research during the semester is not so much keeping the time protected (though that’s a challenge in itself) as it is picking up the threads where I left off the previous week.  There’s a flow you can get into when you’re working day after day on a single project and it’s that flow and the consequent feeling of having all the ideas and sources and quotes you need ready and waiting at your fingertips that I miss on coming back to a piece of work that’s sat cold on my desk since the previous week.

Still, some research is better than no research, especially when a major submission deadline is looming just over the horizon (I’ve promised to get my final manuscript to OUP by the spring of next year).  So I’ll take what I can get and keep plugging away at chapter nine in the hopes of having it and maybe also the introduction finished by Christmas.  It remains to be seen if my eleven or so remaining research days this semester are enough time and mental space to make that happen . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Pathfoot Press: Six Months In

When I came to my job interview at Stirling, I was full of big ideas, not all of them very practical.  One particularly far-fetched scheme I had was to propose developing a bibliography course at postgraduate level and equipping a print room for use by the students.  I laid this out in my job talk, emphasising the expense and long-term nature of the project, while also saying that I thought it had the potential to be a tremendous asset.  In the questions that followed someone – I can no longer remember who – piped up and said, “you know, I think we might have one of these hand press things somewhere”.  Twenty minutes later, thoroughly convinced I hadn’t gotten the job, one of the senior administrators was showing me into an out-of-the-way computer lab.  There, squeezed into the far end of the room, was a Columbian Press, an absolute beauty, surrounded by type cases, cabinets, ink stones, and even an Adana 8×5 to boot.

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Our Columbian Press (watercolour by Kenneth Williams).

And so one thing led to another.  I got the job (most surprising of all), I met Sarah Bromage – one of the curators of Stirling’s fantastic art collection – who also had plans for the press, we had a workshop or two, I pulled together what I could remember of my letterpress printing skills, and in March 2017 the newly-founded Pathfoot Press produced its first work: a large bifolium of Scots poetry celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the university.

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Our first pamphlet locked up and ready to roll, March 2017.

To find myself suddenly the head printer and designer of a university hand press was unexpected enough.  What I couldn’t have expected even six months ago, though, was just how much and how quickly the press and its activities would snowball.  As the only folk involved with the press who had prior letterpress experience, The Historian and I led the way on the publication front, squeezing in odd hours, evenings, and weekends to produce five broadsides and pamphlets to date, but we were hardly alone.  Together, the two of us and Sarah have given printing displays and practical sessions to the public, been filmed for university promotional purposes, printed limited edition broadsides of poetry written by Stirling’s Charles Wallace Fellow, been commissioned to do a series of typographical facsimiles by Innerpeffray Library, and even found ourselves with our very own intern busy cataloguing and organising our chaotic printshop.

In the Prayse of Writing Small

A seventeenth-century encomium on writing, June 2017.  Copies of this broadside can be purchased from the Innerpeffray Library!

What I had originally imagined as a tool for training future bibliographers has taken on a life of its own, sweeping me along with it, and I have to say that I’m tremendously pleased by everything that’s happened.  As a new and busy semester looms its head (our teaching starts on Monday), it’s proving difficult to give as much time as I’d like to the press, but we already have plans in place to continue growing its staff, its productions, and its reach.  If you haven’t come across the Pathfoot Press as yet, visitors are always very welcome or you can follow us on Twitter @PathfootPress.  At this rate, who can say what we’ll be printing and designing in another six month’s time?

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Poet in the Print Shop

A couple of years ago I was reading the account book of Robert Freebairn’s print shop in Edinburgh (because what could be more thrilling?) and came across some unusual entries.  In amongst the regular business of the shop – “for a new barr-shaft to the press”, “for ten fathom of cords for hanging books”, “for carrying paper”, “for Drink & Bread this Week to encourage [the apprentices] to work” – were several entries relating to the physician, heterodox thinker, and poet Archibald Pitcairne (1652-1713).

On 28 March 1713, Thomas Ruddiman – who moonlighted as Freebairn’s clerk when he wasn’t busy being librarian to the Faculty of Advocates – noted “Poem for Dr Pitcairn” and immediately below it, “press thrice wrought”.  On 16 May he recorded a “Poem of Dr Pitcairn’s on my Lord Drummond’s Son 4 times wrought” and on 3 October two more “Poem[s] of Dr Pitcairn”.  Pitcairne is known for his habit of publishing poems as single broadside sheets, but I was intrigued by this suggestion that they had gone through the press multiple times (a suggestion confirmed by the relatively high costs of these impressions, 1s. 6d. for the printing of the 28 March poem and 2s. for that of 16 May, compared, say, to the 3s. weekly wage of Freebairn’s journeymen).  Why was Freebairn taking so much trouble over these jobs?

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Pitcairne’s final job at Freebairn’s press before his death later in October 1713 (NLS MS 763, fol. 47v).

The answer may lie with the state of Edinburgh printing at the beginning of the eighteenth century.  That state was pretty poor.  The average was bare competence and many printers couldn’t manage even that.  Freebairn was, on the whole, one of the more accomplished pressmen of his generation, but even his work tends to have only a workmanlike mise-en-page combined with frequent uneven inking, overprinting, crooked pages, etc.  The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if Pitcairne was himself overseeing the printing of his poems and demanding a higher standard of quality than was usually brought to the Edinburgh print trade?


An example of Edinburgh printing from this period.  Not exactly the Doves Press.

Those of Pitcairne’s broadsides which survive seem to confirm this idea.  While their quality varies, overall they strike me as being both artistically and typographically superior to the ordinary printing of their day.  Some, in particular, aim for a very pleasing epigraphic effect, a bit like John Sparrow’s Lapidaria series in the twentieth century.

So far I’ve only consulted digitised copies of the broadsides – which are notoriously useless for saying much about the letterpress behind a text – but I’m planning an expedition to the National Library to look at several in more detail and I hope that will be able to tell me a bit more about Pitcairne’s “thrice wrought” poems.  It may be that we’re looking at a forgotten moment in the history of printing-as-art and will need to adjust our understandings of Pitcairne in light of it.

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A slight overprint and some inking problems on the ‘B’ in ‘Britannam’, but possibly something new on the Edinburgh stage?

I should also say – just to blow a small blast on my own trumpet – that I’ll be talking in more detail about Pitcairne, his broadsides, and the printers behind them at the “Using Letterpress” workshop being held in Dublin’s National Print Museum on 17 November.  It’ll be a blast, at least, that is, if you like bibliographical minutiae!

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Joys of Data Entry

A few months ago I mentioned that one of the chapters of my new book would be about the public reception of the early Enlightenment texts I’m writing on.  Now, the spreadsheet of subscribers to Scottish books (c.1700-1740) continues to grow apace and, indeed, that’s what I’m trying to finish so I can move forward to actually interpreting the data and writing something about it.


The raw material.

Spreadsheets, databases, and statistical analyses are not really my cup of tea.  I find them cool and often helpful, but left to my own devices I’d much rather dig deep into a single text.  For this chapter, though, that’s not an option.  It’s all very well to write about “sexy things I’ve found in the archives”, but I also want to make a convincing argument that these particular sexy things were in the mainstream of Scottish intellectual culture.  That means producing some statistics.

And so I’ve been experiencing the joys of data entry for the last week or two: plugging the raw data of eighteenth-century subscription lists into an ever-growing spreadsheet and separating out that data so that I can easily search on a person’s name, occupation, place of residence, and which book or books they subscribed for.  It’s not the most intellectually stimulating occupation, but the more I do it the more I realise that producing the dataset is actually an important part of its interpretation.  As I tap away at my keyboard, in between sips of coffee, I begin to see patterns: a certain group of individuals has subscribed to all three of these books, a particular locality is predominant amongst the subscribers to another, this kinship group has gone heavily into subscription culture while another nearby remains aloof.

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In progress, but making progress.

In the best sort of way, the process has both generated questions and made me think about what I’m trying to do in a different way.  I’ve come to realise that while (thankfully!) my initial premise as to the widespread engagement with subscription culture across Scotland was true, the particularities of it are very different from what I’ve expected.  I also now want to understand things which I wasn’t even aware of before: how was knowledge of a subscription passed around a specific community?  Why are some relatively rural localities heavily over-represented while others are entirely absent?  How did Scots abroad come to know of and then engage with a subscription drive?  Why are comparatively few scholars (in fact, authors of other books published by subscription) represented on surviving subscription lists?

So perhaps data entry and statistical analysis isn’t so bad after all.  Who knows, I might even put a graph or two into the final chapter . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

An Excursus into Bookbinding: MacLehose of Glasgow

A couple of days ago, I had bindings on my mind.  I’d been discussing Scottish bindings with a friend and that evening found myself looking at my own library for any which stood out from the ordinary run.  Pulling a couple of volumes off the shelves, the third Miscellany of the Spalding Club (Aberdeen, 1846) and an odd volume of the Bannatyne Club edition of Spalding’s Troubles (Edinburgh, 1829), I was struck to see the same unintrusive binders’ stamp in each: “MACLEHOSE GLASGOW”.

Maclehose 1

I was intrigued.  Both bindings, though comparatively simple, were well-executed and rather beautiful.  Who was MacLehose, I wondered, and how did he fit into the longer history of Scottish fine binding?

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Miscellany of the Spalding Club on the left, Spalding’s Troubles on the right.

MacLehose, it proved, was none other than James MacLehose (1811-1885), the well-known Glasgow publisher and bookseller who, according to the ODNB, had opened a fine bindery alongside his other business concerns in 1862.  An 1892 article in The British Bookmaker provides some insight into the nature of his workshop:

“[N]o ordinary trade work is done. All the books bound here are either the firm’s own work, or the work of private customers . . . Levant, morocco, and a special calf are the principal styles, hand finished and single lettered, and though many of the books are elaborately bound with special designs, a large share are in the severely plain style which finds favour particularly in Scotland”.

Examples of MacLehose’s more elaborate bindings can be seen in Glasgow and London but I suspect that my volumes are more representative of the “severely plain style” mentioned.  The beauty of the bindings comes from carefully executed gold rules and heavily textured calf or goat rather than from a profusion of tooling.  In the case of Spalding’s Troubles the binder has even incorporated the original brown paper binding common to Bannatyne Club volumes into their own work.

Maclehose 3a

Maclehose 3b

Details of the spines: a trifle lavish above, rather more restrained below.

In both cases, these club publications have been rebound; each would have come into the world in a rather more modest trade binding.  The surviving provenance makes it possible to at least hazard a guess as to who may have sent them off to Glasgow for improvement.  In the case of the Miscellany, this is one of a number of volumes I’ve come across from the lately dispersed library of the Benedictine Abbey at Fort Augustus near Inverness.  Although not all items from the abbey library appear to have been rebound, I wonder if this might have been a case of the monks splashing out?

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Is there a story behind the never-completed shelf label?

Spalding’s Troubles also boasts a bookplate: a fine heraldic woodcut proclaiming its owner to be one David Murray.  Murray (1842-1928) was a Glaswegian lawyer, antiquary, bibliophile, and namesake of the University of Glasgow’s book-collecting prize.  He donated most of his library to the university shortly before his death but this volume seems to have escaped.  Given its provenance, it was presumably Murray who had it rebound.

Maclehose 5

So, what can we learn from this?  This sort of investigation opens up intriguing windows onto how books were valued and presented in nineteenth-century Scotland, as well as providing some examples of the book binder’s art from a period which is less heavily studied than earlier centuries.  But I think it also provides a lesson in informed book collecting.  I bought both of these volumes for a few pounds each, purely for their contents and their value as part of a scholarly reference library, and I very much doubt that their sellers were any more aware than I of what made them interesting as physical artefacts.  Now, though, I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more examples of MacLehose’s art.  It may be “severely plain” for the most part, but it has the beauty of fine craftsmanship and is a still-to-be-explored chapter in the nineteenth-century Scottish book trade.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

The Protean Chapter

There was one chapter of my doctoral thesis I just couldn’t crack. I must have rewritten it four or five times, hating it every time, and the incarnation which finally made its way into my first book had more or less nothing in common with the initial draft other than subject. My basic problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to talk about a difficult text – Aubrey’s Remaines of Gentilisme – but I think most writers have had the experience of the “difficult chapter”, the one that keeps changing and shifting underneath your hands in spite of your best efforts to bring it to some kind of final form.

Right now I’m dealing with another difficult chapter. When I drew up the plan for this book I knew I wanted to say something about a genre I’d loosely and anachronistically defined as “local history”, the sort of antiquarian or geographical text which focuses on a specific area – be that burgh, parish, county, whatever – and I thought I had a good idea of what that would look like. As I researched the chapter, though, the texts and concepts I wanted to address within that remit kept changing and now as I’ve been outlining it preparatory to doing a generative draft, they’ve been changing again.

Title page from Theatrum Scotiae by John Slezer 1693.

Slezer’s Theatrum Scotiae, one of the key texts I’ll be discussing in this chapter.

Some of that change naturally came from honing my research questions. Some sources which had originally seemed relevant came to be less so, while others proved to be far more central than I’d expected. There have been other matters to consider in the process as well. Any discussion of Scottish geography or chorography would be incomplete without Robert Sibbald, but I’ve been trying not to let Sibbald and his thousand and one projects dominate this chapter; in a book that’s meant to survey an entire intellectual movement I think it’s important to discuss a variety of scholars and their texts. But spending more time (and words) on texts I had been thinking less about at the beginning of the project has opened up new avenues of research and other ways of thinking about the material. I’ve now added a new writer altogether – a previously unknown female érudit whose writings include not only a geographical text, but also contributions to Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire – which has not only affected this chapter but has led to discoveries altering some of my arguments in a subsequent chapter. At what point do you stop researching and revising and start writing?

For me, I think I’ve finally reached that tipping point. Yes, I could spend a day or two in the NLS and come up with yet another iteration of the chapter outline, but I think I know what I need to say and it’s that which matters more than exactly how I say it and with what suite of primary sources. The protean chapter isn’t finished yet, but it’s getting there.

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Mural Monuments in Crail

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The funeral monument of James Lumsden of Airdrie (d. 1598) in Crail Kirkyard – one of the grander pieces of monumental sculpture in Fife.

I’ve been interested in the remarkable early modern epigraphic landscape of Crail kirkyard (in the East Neuk of Fife) for about as long as I’ve been interested in carved stones.  A while ago I wrote a small piece on Crail, comparing its carved stones with analogous wooden relics for the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework, and I’m now very pleased to be giving a paper to the Crail History Society next week on the same topic.  I’ll be looking specifically at how we can track local monuments’ deterioration through comparing their current condition with a series of photographs taken by Erskine Beveridge in the 1890s, but I’m moderately optimistic that the talk won’t actually be as dry as it sounds!

For anyone interested, the paper will be given in the Legion Hall, Nethergate, Crail, at 7.30pm, Tuesday, 13 June.  Hecklers always welcome . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

On Generative Writing

Almost a month ago, I talked about planning my summer writing goals and, especially, the book chapter I wanted to write first: a look at the reception of French archival and textual theories in early Enlightenment Scotland. I finished a first draft of that chapter earlier today and thought that now might be a good time – in line with my longer-term intention of documenting the writing process – to say something about how I got from point A to point B.

As with most research and writing innovations, it was The Historian who introduced me to generative writing. The idea is very simple: do your very best to throw away any desire to edit, footnote, tidy, or reflect on your writing as you go and just hammer out the words at breakneck speed. In reality, of course, it’s a little more complicated and there’s quite a lot of literature on the internet about different variations of the method (you can see some of these here, here, and here). Most academic contexts for generative writing seem to be along the lines of a one or two hour group writing session, but when The Historian participated in a “Thesis Boot Camp” for doctoral students at St Andrews in which their goal was to write 20,000 words over three days I decided I’d give it a go as well. To my immense surprise, I finished the long weekend with two draft chapters in hand and ever since I’ve used the technique as a means of getting myself through the initial draft.

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Egregious picture: It was lack of funds rather than lack of generative writing which stopped Anderson from producing his Diplomata on time (courtesy National Library of Scotland).

That doesn’t just mean starting with a blank page and ending with 10,000 words, though. For this chapter, as for others, I started with a general idea of the topic in hand (in this case, a chapter about the reception of French diplomatic scholarship in Scotland). Then I asked myself some basic questions about the chapter, borrowed ultimately from the writing pedagogy of Dr. Peta Freestone: What are the main points it needs to cover? What resources and/or evidence will I need to draw on to demonstrate these points and convince my reader? And how does this chapter relate to my overall argument? To those basic questions I also added the additional query of “who does this chapter introduce?” One of the pleasures and challenges of writing this book has been in helping my (notional) readers to get to know a host of obscure Scottish thinkers of the early eighteenth century and I’ve been doing my best to make that happen in an orderly and non-confusing fashion. Once I’d answered those questions to my satisfaction, I started working on an outline of the chapter. This went through about three iterations, each more detailed than the last, until earlier this week I had in hand a 1,500 word or so paragraph-by-paragraph outline of what I wanted to say. It was only then that I began to write.

Like quite a lot of other people who take this approach, I try to structure my writing time using the Pomodoro technique. Its effectively a way of making sure you work hard while still pacing yourself, a bit like setting a sustainable rating in a long-distance rowing race. The idea is that you work – focusing your entire mind on the matter at hand – for twenty-five minutes, take a break for five minutes, work for another twenty-five minutes, another five minute break, and so on until you’ve done a full “set” of four pomodoros (pomodori?), four twenty-five minute rounds. When I’ve prepared properly, I can pretty consistently write about 650 words in the course of one pomodoro, so going into a piece of work it’s relatively easy to figure out how much time I need to set aside. In this case, though, I actually over-budgeted on time, anticipating the chapter would take twelve pomodoros when it only came out to nine.

And that’s more or less that. I now have about 9,800 words, making a complete first draft of this chapter. It’s a mess, to be sure – full of place holders, notes saying “[CHECK THIS]”, tags indicating that I need to come back and flesh out a particular point in more detail, almost no footnotes, etc. – but it’s also something to work with, and I find that’s the most important thing. I’ll let it sit for a couple of weeks before I begin revising it and if I manage to keep to schedule by then I’ll have started work on the next chapter. Ever closer to a complete draft . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams

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.


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