My latest book, The First Scottish Enlightenment: Rebels, Priests, and History, makes a simple but – I hope – radical argument: there was an Early Enlightenment in Scotland from the 1680s through the 1740s and it was very different from the intellectual movement we now call the Scottish Enlightenment. The one was urban, this was rural. The one was centred on Edinburgh, this was centred on the north-east of Scotland. The one was moderate and Presbyterian, this was Jacobite, Episcopalian, and Catholic. The one was middle class, this was aristocratic. The one was concerned with the “sciences of man”, this was concerned with the past and its relationship to the present.
My research has suggested that this half-century of “antiquarian enlightenment” was far more vigorous and widespread than anybody has previously suspected as well as being deeply intertwined with contemporary developments in France, Italy, and the Low Countries. Yet it seems to have almost completely dropped out of view quite soon afterwards. The story I’m hoping to tell, then, is two fold: first, what was this intellectual culture? How did it work? Who participated in it? What did it achieve? And second, why was it forgotten?
Copyright © 2016-20 Kelsey Jackson Williams