Posts Tagged ‘tax records’

I’ve various academic history research projects on the go, and one of these, still in the early stages, is to look at 18th century Scottish shop tax records. My taught postgraduate Masters degree at Dundee was in Cultural and Urban Histories 1650-1850, and I also worked as a Research Assistant on a pilot study of small towns in Scotland circa 1750-1820. So to study shops and their development in this period is perfect given my background.

Fortunately for me these records have been digitised at ScotlandsPlaces.gov.uk, and so are conveniently accessible. As a disabled academic, with a severely disabling neurological illness, this access is particularly important, meaning I can work on these records at home. You used to have to go to Edinburgh to look at these records in manuscript form, which I certainly can’t do any more.

The shop tax records that survive for Scotland only cover years 1785-1789, but cover many towns across the country, large and small. The amount of detail varies. Sometimes you just get names and no details of shops. At other times you can see what the shops were. For example the image below shows part of the 1787 Haddington shop tax list, including my 6xg-grandfathers Dr Richard Somner (surgeon and apothecary, shop type not specified in the tax records) and William Veitch (watchmaker, recorded in the tax record).

Such a high degree of variation means that the shop tax records aren’t all suitable for study. Indeed a core question is how much of these records are detailed enough for adequate analysis. But more interesting, I think, is to see if we can use these records to explore how developed the shopping hierarchy was in urban Scotland by the 1780s, including how shops varied between different towns. This ties into the work of my PhD supervisors Professors Bob Harris and Charles McKean, whose Saltire prize winning book on Scottish towns addresses this to an extent, and especially so re the provision of luxury goods.

At the moment I’m still in the early stages of this research project, currently part way through looking through the records systematically, to see which towns have detailed shop tax records at specific dates.

Then I want to consider which types of towns can be analysed, e.g. large cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow, versus manufacturing centres like Paisley, Hawick etc., or elite centres like Dumfries or Montrose. Towns in Scotland fell into many types, and it’s important to consider what type each town was when analysing its records.

Thinking along these lines will give me a target list of towns, whose shop tax records I can then transcribe and start to analyse. I will need to formalise my list of research questions more fully, but such questions ought to come partly out of the records themselves, and partly out of the academic literature.

Anyway it should be fun! I would aim to publish the results, but also aim to report back here on progress and findings, as well as any final results.


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Well it’s a week in, and as is normal with Academic Writing Month I’m reflecting on how things have gone so far.

It’s been a great start. Neither main goal is fully achieved yet, but both are well on the way. The conference paper proposal has a first draft written, which came in at almost perfect length even before tweaking/editing. I need to check a few more academic books, and give it a couple of weeks distance for final editing, but I should definitely have a proposal ready in time. I still have to decide whether to submit it, but that’s a separate decision. Main thing is I can if I want to.

My other main goal was to revise and resubmit a journal paper. I’d been quite ill and weak for several months after getting the response from the editors, which caused a delay. But it also helped because the reviewer’s comments were quite harsh, and a bit of distance helps deal with that positively! But a few weeks ago I turned the editors’ requests and the reviewer’s critique into a to-do list of improvements to be getting on with, and I made a proper start on that last night. There were 13 items on my to-do list, and I completed 6 of them in about an hour. The tweaks are all quite surgical, not too lengthy (which is good, because I’d need to cut other words if I add any more), but needed that bit of distance and focus. And Academic Writing Month has encouraged me to finally bring this to completion. I’ll be working on the remaining items over the coming week or so, but am confident I will have it ready to resubmit this month.

On the downside I haven’t done much more IF Comp judging. I have reached the 5 game threshold, i.e. 5 games judged and rated, which means that my votes will count towards the final ranking. But with over 30 games entered in the competition that’s only a very small minority of games judged, and I would like to judge more. The deadline for judging and voting is 15th November, but I am confident, given how my other goals are going, that I should manage some more.

No more work yet on my own text adventure game, but I finished reading After Flodden, which gave me lots of ideas. And in my urban history research I’ve already started looking through and assessing the late 18th century Scottish shop tax lists, to see which would be suitable for further more detailed analysis. So that is a good start in itself.

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I’m doing another one of my occasional posts here about things I’m working on research and writing wise. I find these useful for my own purposes to keep a note of what I’m up to, and I’ve found that declaring goals somewhere like this can be helpful for getting things done.

I’m planning on taking part in Academic Writing Month again this year, in November, but probably in a more low-key way than last year. I have a particular goal for the month, to get a revised journal paper completed and sent on to the relevant editors before the end of November. But that’s probably my main goal for then. I need to finish some relevant reading for that, as well as work on the paper directly. So I need some thinking time, before doing my final revisions.

Beyond that I want to focus on doing things I find fun. For example, inspired by my much missed late PhD supervisor, I want to return to urban history research, and am planning a variety of things I can get started with. I have a number of ideas for academic urban history things I can do from home using both trade directories I have access to in digitised form and the detailed 18th century Scottish tax records available online at Scotlandsplaces. I’ve been jotting down ideas for research possibilities in a mind map on my iPad. All would be fun to research, and could potentially lead to more academic journal papers.

Urban history research ideas mind map

I also want to carry on with my series of crossover history and roleplaying game articles, which I’m planning to compile into a book once I’ve written enough. I completed my 10th and 11th articles for this the other night, and now have the challenge of figuring out which places to write about next. I’ve generally been writing about two Scottish places for every one English place. To be honest I’m impressed I’m managing to write that much about England, ranging from Northumberland, down to Suffolk, and over to Somerset and Cornwall. I like writing these pieces, and find them enormous fun.

And I really must resume my text adventure work in progress. Though I could argue I’m doing research for it at the moment, because I’ve just started reading Rosemary Goring’s After Flodden, a novel set in the same area at about the same time as the interactive fiction game I’m writing. Hopefully it will help inspire me and give me more of a feel for the time, which I need for continuing developing the plot and interaction side of my game. Writing text adventures in Inform 7 is enormous fun – like playing them, not like conventional programming – but I find the more traditional aspects of writing harder.

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