A New Project

My last book, The First Scottish Enlightenment, was published in February and since then Covid, lockdown, and their attendant upheavals have meant that I’ve had very little time to blog or write anything publicly about my next steps. Even if I’d had the time, I’m not sure I’d have known what to say. For several years I thought I was going to follow this book with a project on carved stones in early modern Scotland – a category of artefacts which has fascinated me for as long as I can remember – and I even got as far as writing the better part of a grant proposal before realising that this wasn’t, in fact, what I wanted to do.

Instead, in the best possible way, my last project caused me to consider new questions and think about different issues in ways I couldn’t have imagined before. Over and over again, I found myself turning to the editions of the nineteenth-century Scottish publishing clubs – the Bannatyne, Maitland, Abbotsford, Spalding, and their companions. There was nothing unusual in this. Indeed, from undergraduate dissertations through doctoral theses to innumerable articles and monographs, the publications of the literary clubs appear across the spectrum of modern Scottish scholarship, even nearly two hundred years after their heyday.

The works of the publication societies are for Scotland what the Rolls Series is for England or the Monumenta Germaniae Historica for Germany.

What struck me, though, was how little we really know about the historical moment which produced these clubs and their works. Marinell Ash’s classic Strange Death of Scottish History (Ramsay Head Press, 1980) briefly and problematically addresses their output as do a small handful of more recent articles, but to a great extent they represent a blank spot in the Scottish historical and literary psyche – surprising given that the energies of a dozen or so poets, advocates, booksellers, and landed gentleman of the first half of the nineteenth century have defined the pool of printed texts available to the next eight generations of scholars.

The Strawberry Hill Gothic title page of an edition of seventeenth-century antiquarian texts edited by the indefatigable James Maidment and published by the antiquarian bookseller Thomas G. Stevenson (1837).

And so I realised that it wasn’t carved stones I wanted to study, but these nineteenth-century editors and their editions of medieval and early modern texts. That’s my new project and I’ll look forward to writing more in the near future. Already I’m full of ideas about the incredibly important place these scholars occupy in the intellectual history of Scotland and how they provide a key bridge between pre-Union Scotland and the present.

© 2019 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Book Launch Tomorrow!

Last week, I had the joy of receiving the first copies of The First Scottish Enlightenment from OUP:

This week marks the first of what I hope will be several book launch events around and furth of Scotland. If you’re at all interested, please do join me and my colleagues Scott Hames and Michael Shaw for a tripartite celebration of our respective new books at Room D1, Pathfoot Building, University of Stirling, tomorrow (27 February) at 5pm. There will be drinks and nibbles as well as a probably-not-too-embarassing speech by yours truly!

(c) 2020 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Post-Book Pleasures

One of the nicest things about having submitted my book manuscript has been the suddenly-restored space in which to simply read, think, and tentatively write about new ideas.  I’m already working on my latest research project – a study of carved stones in Scotland – but that’s both long-term and expansive in its remit, so there’s been plenty of space in which to explore.

At the moment that’s taking the form of some research and the beginnings of writing on a monument I’ve been fascinated by for a number of years: the towering baroque tomb of the Marquess and Marchioness of Atholl in Dunkeld Cathedral.

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The Atholl Monument (1704-05), Dunkeld Cathedral.

The monument commemorates the first marquess of Atholl, a nobleman in the characteristic Restoration mould, and his half-English, half-French wife.  Its designer, however, was none other than Alexander Edward, the prolific and polymathic Jacobite, Episcopal minister, and architect who was an associate of William Bruce and a client of the Maules of Panmure.  Remarkably, Edward’s original plans for the monument survive and lately I’ve been exploring what this can tell us about its purpose and its larger architectural and art historical context.

It’s an exciting project, but mostly I’m just pleased to be working on something other than the book!

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Week -4: The Book is Finished!

. . . and it’s away!  Shortly before midnight last night I hit send on the e-mail which delivered a full manuscript of The First Scottish Enlightenment to my editor at OUP.  Alert readers may have noticed that my actual submission deadline was the end of July rather than the end of August.  They may also have noticed my over-enthusiastic conference attendance for much of the summer.  The two combined to put me behind schedule, but after a punishing few weeks I’ve nonetheless succeeded in sending the manuscript off before teaching begins.

In the spirit of this series of blog posts – which were, at least notionally, intended to be about the process of completing a book project – I thought I’d share the academic life-lessons I’ve learnt over the last couple of weeks.  They’re all extremely obvious, especially in hindsight, but maybe that’s also why they’re worth talking about.

Pen?

VI. Never underestimate the importance of having a dedicated research assistant.

V. You don’t need to chase that citation.  Much of my time over the last few weeks has been spent in university libraries trying to chase up obscure books I thought I should probably look at and cite (anyone familiar with Aristide Joly’s 1934 Université de Paris doctoral thesis on the Duke of Perth?).  But very few of these have had any material impact on the book as a whole.  Many more or less frustrating hours could have been saved by simply accepting that it’s impossible to ever be completely exhaustive in your research.

IV. Don’t think about publication.  I’m bad about keeping my head in the present at the best of times, but I’ve been finding myself particularly side-tracked worrying about reviews, about what colleagues will think, and about what the overall reception of the book will be.  The rational part of me knows, though, that such thoughts were less than helpful in bringing this project to its conclusion.

III. Obtain image permissions well ahead of submission.  I really wish I’d done this.

II. Read your publisher’s style guide.  This is something I actually did do, but even so I found myself having to make last-minute changes due to not having read it with sufficient care.

And crucially . . .

I. Use bibliographical software and/or maintain a running bibliography.  I wrote my bibliography from scratch between Tuesday and last night – it was absolute hell.  Next time I think I’ll have a go at using EndNote or Zotero or something similar.

Despite my questionable life choices, the book is still finished!  Now time to prepare for the new semester’s teaching and begin thinking about what comes next (the answer, of course, is lots of carved stones) . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Week 8: A Complete Draft

I began the research project which ultimately led to this book in the summer of 2014 and had been thinking about it for a year or more before that, so it’s almost hard to believe that last week saw me write the final chapter (an unexpected addition which I only realised I needed quite late in the day) and find myself in the possession of a complete draft of The First Scottish Enlightenment.

But so it is.  Not only do I have a complete draft, but most chapters are ready to go, with only two or three needing any substantial revision and the rest just awaiting polishing, cross-referencing and general putting in order.  I’m still a bit behind schedule – all of this was meant to happen last week – but it feels like a huge achievement nonetheless.  Now I’ve begun the penultimate end-to-end read, ferreting out sections where I’ve repeated myself, or changed my mind, or thought I made sense but actually didn’t.  While I’m finding plenty to tweak, so far nothing truly awful has reared its head and occasionally I can even tolerate my prose.

Reflexive back-patting out of the way, though, I wanted to continue in the spirit of this series of posts by talking a little more about how I’ve been approaching revisions to the manuscript.  I’ve been taking it chapter by chapter, beginning with a paper copy (in which I find it far easier to catch grammatical and typographical errors).  I mark up the paper copy with any minor changes – typos, punctuation, an additional clause, etc. – and make notes of any more substantial additions in an Evernote file to return to later.  At the same time, I’ve been creating an index of where I mention key individuals, books, manuscripts, and events to avoid duplication and make sure I introduce them properly when they first appear.  Finally, I take note again of the sub-sections within the chapter and ask myself if they make sense, flow well, or need to be renamed or shuffled about.

That’s the first step – working with paper copy in hand.  Then I copy over all of my handwritten changes into the relevant Word file before working through my notes for more extensive additions or revisions, taking these one at a time, usually while ensconced in the St Andrews university library (the closest research library to home), where I can easily check references.  At this stage, I’ll also make any revisions or cutting and pasting which the index reveals to be necessary.

Once these two stages are done, each chapter is ready to be sent off to my kind and extremely patient readers.  At the same time, however, I’ve also been taking a separate set of notes on anything which may need to be returned to once the whole book has been gone through in this way: mostly cross-references, occasionally lists or tables dependent upon other chapters, and similar material.  I’ll attend to that at the end.

And that’s where I stand.  Eight weeks from my submission deadline – the end of July – and, I think, in pretty decent shape.  I like this stage of the process, the conscientous and meticulous working out of small issues, tidying of prose, and all the other things that go with revision, and look forward to seeing it through over the next couple of weeks.

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Week 13: The Best-Laid Schemes . . .

Burns’s “To a Mouse” (1785) is one of those poems so culturally ubiquitous – in Scotland anyway – that its lines have become verbal tics or pieces of linguistic shorthand like Chinese Chengyu.  I was reflecting on this while mentally composing the present blog post.  A little less than a month ago The Historian and I moved into a new (or, rather, old) house with all the predictable chaos that involves, not least of which has been the collapse of my existing schedule for book completion.  The phrase which naturally came to mind was that most famous of distychs from “To a Mouse”: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men | Gang aft agley”.

In context that was pretty disastrous (for the mouse, at least), as the subsequent lines – “An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain, | For promis’d joy!” – make clear.  In the case of the book project, it’s perhaps not so bad as all that.  Agley (or aglee) simply means asquint or awry or somewhat oblique in Scots, though with the figurative meaning of something in error or off the mark, and comes from the verb gley, to squint, but also to look with one eye, to take aim.  While the house move has, indeed, meant that my book completion plans have gone agley, I think I’ve managed to nonetheless gley once again at the target of manuscript submission and come up with a revised schedule that’s still workable (more workable than my attempts at linguistic punning, to be sure).

An adjustment of plans was needed in any case as earlier in the year I’d become aware that I probably didn’t need a separate chapter on one topic (Roman antiquities, which have ended up being discussed in the context of various other chapters), but did most definitely need a chapter I hadn’t originally intended (one specifically on the work of Thomas Innes).  So the next three weeks will see me writing this latter chapter.  It shouldn’t be too hard, given that Innes has figured largely in my research for a number of years now, and when it’s finished only the introduction and conclusion will remain to be written.

In other words, if at first you go agley, gley, gley again!

The header image is a photograph of Kenny Hunter’s seven foot tall bronze mouse statue at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum.

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Week 22: Strikes and Snow

This is the first week in which I’ve fallen behind my completion schedule.  It’s all the more strange given that the week which has just gone by, on first glance, would seem to have been the ideal stretch of time in which to plow ahead with the book project.

Why?  Well, I’ve somewhat sophistically convinced myself that I can work on the book during strike days (for the strike and what it involves click here) as that will be working for myself rather than for my institution.  Whether that’s a valid argument or not is another matter, but either way it should have meant that I had three clear days of book time earlier this week.  On top of that, the “Beast fae the East” ensured that classes were cancelled on both Thursday and Friday, meaning two more days at home (in heavily snowed-in Doune – see the picture at the top of this post), which – even allowing for the need to mark student essays – ought to have helped matters along.

But I think in the end that a regular routine is more productive to writing than any number of more or less unexpected bonus days.  Somehow I’ve managed to explore the Leighton Library, sort press furniture for our home press, clean a giant pile of brass rules for the same, write a paper which ended up being canceled by snow, and do pretty much everything conceivable this week except for actually moving forward with the book.

Rules

I may not have progressed with the book, but these are now scrubbed, polished, and sorted by size.

And so, I’m now about a week behind.  With luck that will change next week: the strike is due to continue and I’ll be sitting at home with little else to do.  But this time I’ll have to knuckle down and impose a routine on these otherwise all too slippery days of strike and snow . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Week 25: A Chapter Down

We are currently in week 25.  I used to organise my desk journal and the other paraphernalia of scheduling by weeks of term or semester, but that’s now been supplanted by the overarching countdown of the book manuscript and, by that highly specific calendar, we are twenty-five weeks away from hand-off to OUP.

I’m now four weeks in to the completion schedule I set myself at the beginning of this year and am feeling, on the whole, pleased with its progress.  Teaching has been happening for a little while now, but I’m still managing to balance it and administrative responsibilities with ongoing book work.  Indeed, as I write I have one more chapter in the bag than I did when I began all of this in January.

So, how did that happen?  Last spring I wrote about generative writing and the ways in which I’ve used it during the present book project.  This chapter was no different.  I outlined at progressively detailed levels until I had a paragraph-by-paragraph skeleton of the chapter I wanted to produce (about 3,000 words), then over a couple of days I fleshed that out into a ~9,000 word very rough first draft.  In the subsequent week I added footnotes and tidied the style until it’s now sitting at about 12,000 words and is in a pretty decent state save that I need to check a few sources when I’m next in St Andrews.

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John Cockburn’s Bibliotheca Universalis (Edinburgh, 1688), one of the case studies in Scottish intellectual culture discussed in the chapter I’ve just finished.

That probably makes it all sound easy enough, but I’ve actually found this chapter quite hard.  It’s chapter one – I’m writing the book out of order – and contains about half of my attempt to intervene in Enlightenment historiography (the other half will be in the introduction).  I find that sort of heavily referential, positioning activity to be heavy work and am by no means convinced that the current draft does a sufficient job of explaining both where I sit amongst the various Israelite, Robertsonian, Pocockian, etc. interpretations of Enlightenment and how what I’m doing is different.  Mercifully, I’m now turning to chapter four (again, out of order) and what I’ve been calling the “Ancient Monarchy Debate” – the long-running critique of Scotland’s supposedly 2,000-year-old royal dynasty – which is much more comfortably antiquarian ground.

If all goes well, I should be writing another blog post, recording the successful completion of chapter four, somewhere in the last days of February or first days of March . . . .

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Scheduling the Book

I survive in academia with the help of calendars and schedules: the paper diary that used to be enough to keep me organised when I was a student has expanded into a Google calendar, an increasingly complicated desk journal, and multiple tables and Gantt charts, but the principle remains the same.  My latest schedule, though, is particularly terrifying: the schedule of finishing the book.

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This is the part of my 2018 schedule I’m really looking forward to . . . .

 

On the surface of it, finishing The Book doesn’t seem too daunting.  My submission date is 31 July, I already have most of it written, and a relatively light teaching semester ahead of me.  But once you begin to break down the twenty-eight weeks between now and the end of July, things start looking tighter.  To stay on schedule I’ll need – for example – to finish the chapter I’m currently working on by 9 February and knock off the next one (which, mercifully, already exists in a partial draft) by 2 March and while four weeks seems like quite a lot, I’ll also be juggling teaching, the press, and all the other administrative and quotidian responsibilities of being a lecturer (not to mention those interfering non-scholarly activities, like buying a house).

So I’m steeling myself for a busy few months.  Packed as they’ll be, I think I’ve worked out a manageable timeline for completion and I’m looking forward, after a semester devoted almost wholly to teaching, to return to this project and see it through its final stages.  Step one: draw up a detailed plan of the chapter I’m about to write.  This is chapter one (because I’m writing out of order), an overview of Scottish intellectual culture at the end of the seventeenth century, and I’m currently putting flesh on the bones of a fairly general outline I made before Christmas.  Once I’ve worked out what I want to say, paragraph by paragraph, then I’ll turn to generative writing to produce a first draft.  Before I can do that, though, I want to reread and refresh my memory of a couple of key texts (the seminal works by Clare Jackson and Hugh Ouston on this period) and review my notes towards the chapter, some of which were taken three or four years ago and almost certainly contain material which has long since escaped my mind.

Evernote and my increasingly well-worn copy of Restoration Scotland beckon . . . .

 

Copyright © 2018 Kelsey Jackson Williams

Demography, Statistics, and the Cultural Historian

These days if I’m forced to put myself in a sub-disciplinary box, I usually say that I’m a cultural historian.  This is less because I’m an adherent of the Burkean New Cultural History (or any other theoretical agenda, for that matter) than because it seems to offer a comfortable basket into which I can fit my interests in intellectual history, material culture, literature, and the history of scholarship.  It also nicely serves to distinguish the kind of qualitative, example-driven work I do from the more quantitative, statistical work that one might (in an oversimplifying sort of way) associate with an economic or social historian.

Needless to say, I now find myself deep within the territory of economic and social history, doing my best to say something useful and not be too much of an idiot while doing so.  Over the past year I’ve been working on the readership of early Enlightenment Scottish texts (you can see an example here and some commentary on the data-crunching underlying this work here).  This part of my book project has now reached a point where I have a sprawling, unwieldy spreadsheet recording the names, residences, and occupations of 3,575 subscribers to historical works published in Scotland between 1707 and 1744.

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A sample few lines from the database: some Stirling-based subscribers.

Now comes the challenge of deriving meaning from all of this data.  Historical demography is not a field I’ve ever explored in any depth, but I’m now finding it absolutely imperative to understand if I’m going to do anything useful with my spreadsheet of readers.  Take the basic question: what percentage of the population subscribed to these books?  The population of Scotland in the early eighteenth century was probably somewhere in the ballpark of one million, which would seem to suggest that my subscribers represent only a tiny fraction, something on the order of 0.35% of the total population.  But what if you consider them as a fraction of the adult population?  Of the literate population?  On a more fine-grained level, what can I say about the relative percentages of subscribers from different parts of the country?  Or the presence or absence of different professions and social classes?

Some of these questions will probably be insoluble, but others will, with effort, be resolved.  It’s a sobering reminder, though, that different corners of the field use very different forms of scholarship to produce their results and that we should be wary of trespassing without understanding in our interdisciplinary travels.  I for one will certainly be asking friends more familiar with demography and statistics to comment on the resulting chapter when it eventually takes shape.  In the mean time, I’ll be trying to make sense of historical demography and thinking hard about what that can teach me about the shape of the Scottish Enlightenment . . . .

Copyright © 2017 Kelsey Jackson Williams