Posts Tagged ‘dumfriesshire’

10 years ago this month in 2012 my Scottish Historical Review journal paper was published. Sole authored, it looked at book ownership in Scotland in the late eighteenth century, using a local case study of Dumfriesshire after-death wills and inventories. This was part of my PhD research into reading habits in Scotland in this period, and this was one of the first journal papers I published after completing my PhD at Dundee University in 2010.

I thought it might be nice to do a retrospective blog about this journal paper. The paper was published in Scottish Historical Review, and the full published PDF version is available on my website, in green Open Access form on my publications web page.

This research arose from my belief that testaments – Scottish after-death wills and inventories – could be a useful guide to the books people owned. To be fair I hadn’t always thought this way. But from my research assistant work on Bob Harris’s small towns project, researching Angus towns in the late 18th and early 19th century, I had discovered that Scottish testaments often mentioned books, in particular testaments with lists of personal possessions. Not consistently, not totally reliably, but enough to be informative. Sometimes only e.g. a “bundle of books” might be valued. But in other cases you might get a detailed list of titles owned. I was grateful for any clues at all. Note this is very different from the situation in England at the same time, where comparable probate records rarely record any great details of personal possessions after the 1720s.

I couldn’t possibly research testaments across the whole of Scotland, just for the practicality of the scale of it. Nor was a random based approach suitable, given the scarcity of references. I needed to study a local area’s complete testaments over a given time period, but in a manner that had to be feasible and practical for me to tackle as a small part of my PhD. In the end I settled for Dumfriesshire, which is semi-rural, but with some towns and many villages. And logistically it was feasible for me to study this area.

I persuaded the then National Archives of Scotland (now National Records of Scotland) to lend me digital images of testaments for Dumfries Commissary Court between 1750 and 1800. At that time they had never lent such a set of records, and only agreed somewhat reluctantly because of my disability situation – my progressive neurological illness meant that it was essential I could do the bulk of this research from home. But this loan also set the precedent for similar loans for other (less disabled) Scottish academics in future.

In total I borrowed digital images of 1,379 testaments, including 345 with detailed inventories and 82 with wills. I also did a manual check in the Edinburgh search room of warrants of inventories, additional papers of appraisements and inventories, for lists including books not copied into the registers of testaments.

As I wrote in the published journal paper:

References to books were found in over a third of the detailed inventories of personal possessions recorded in a quarter of the testaments in the court’s register.

i.e. where there was a surviving detailed inventory of personal possessions then a third of the time that would contain references to books.

Most of these found references were detailed lists of books, including their titles. In other cases there were passing references to books, or in some cases valuations of book furniture (e.g. book cases). In total I had details of 156 different book owners, including considerable information about them, and in many cases also about the books that they owned.

The bulk of the paper looks at the Dumfriesshire book owners found in a variety of ways. For example their spread through time and space is considered, and also their range of occupations. Unsurprisingly many were from generally more prosperous occupations, but the list also included others like a gardener, a smith, a labourer, and a servant.

The lists of books recorded allowed the types of books owned to be considered, both in a broader pattern, and for individual owners. Ownership of religious books was a constant feature, but over time other books appeared more and more in the lists, fitting with wider trends in books and reading at this time in Scotland. Many books could also be linked to the occupations of their owners, for example legal reference works owned by solicitors (“writers”), and also the work-related books owned by merchants, etc.

Alongside religious books classical books remained an ongoing presence, but they were also accompanied by other language books, especially French. Well-known Enlightenment books were owned, as well as many books of history, and voyages and travels. Periodicals and magazines were also a frequent presence.

One of my favourite sections of the paper looked at the very largest book collections recorded in these records. Perhaps unsurprisingly these also often were the references that mentioned book furniture, given the practical implications of storing a large collection of books. The question of where people bought the books was considered in this section too, drawing briefly on a local Dumfries bookseller who appears – with his entire detailed stock list – in the Dumfriesshire testaments I studied, having died in 1788.

Preparing my paper for publication was a delight, reworking things and strengthening the analysis and contextualisation. I would like to thank Catriona Macdonald who was the then journal editor for an easy and very systematic editorial process. And thanks too to the peer reviewers for their helpful feedback and suggestions.

The only downside was that the final pre-publication proofs came through as I was undergoing a summer of gruelling chemotherapy infusions at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. In fact I ended up having to proofread the journal paper one-handed, hooked up to a chemotherapy drip! It was that or I probably wouldn’t turn them around in time, given how ill I was likely to be (and indeed very much was) with side effects in subsequent days.

Looking back I am very proud of this paper. I hope to publish again in Scottish Historical Review in future. But this was a very positive experience, and one that I look back on fondly.

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My latest journal paper was published last month in Scottish Historical Review. It’s derived from part of a chapter of my PhD thesis, and looks at book ownership in Scotland in the late 18th century using a local case study of after-death inventories. For a more detailed description see the abstract on the SHR website.

I’d seen the PDF copy last month. Of course I was familiar with the text, but it was really nice to see it laid out in a new format for the new journal. But it’s even more exciting to hold the print copies, which I received today, and to flick through the journal. My husband was very impressed and commented: “It’s a proper journal paper! Goes on for ever! Pages and pages!” He also marvelled at the number of footnotes (80) in my paper, which is far more than he is used to in the science papers he reads (he is an academic science researcher).

On the downside a little typo crept into the author biography which I didn’t pick up on proofreading. Not my typo, but introduced either in editing or typesetting. Very minor though. And I haven’t spotted anything else wrong. I picked up on 17 things to be corrected when I proofread the journal paper prior to printing, and was really relieved to manage to spot that many things (some my fault, others introduced at editing, others at typesetting) given that I had to proofread during a hospital chemotherapy infusion, juggling all the bits of paper one-handed while hooked up to a toxic drip coming into my left wrist. I’d hoped to proofread in the days before then, but the proofs were delayed, and it was either proofread during chemotherapy or not manage it in time, given how ill I knew I would be post-chemo over the subsequent week.

Anyway it’s lovely to see it in print and to hold the physical copies. It’s my third single-authored history journal paper. I have earlier publications from my computer science postgraduate days, but those are co-authored, and my contributions to them were relatively small. I’m far more proud of my history papers, as a single author, and particularly proud of this latest one, given that it has been published in probably the most eminent journal in Scottish historical research. For an independent scholar, only two years post PhD, that is an enormous achievement.

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