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Scotland and the Americas 1600 to 1800


Among the general benefits of the study of history is the attention it draws necessarily to the importance of precision and specificity in all discourse. Dig into almost any subject in the past. and it will surely turn out that the way things happened was more complex than one had assumed at the beginning. This exhibition on “Scotland and the Americas, 1600 to 1800" is in good part the result of such a concern for proper differentiation.

In the twentieth century, Scotland remains a culturally distinctive geographical place, but in most respects it is merged into Great Britain or the United Kingdom. The study of the relations between Scotland and the United States today would consist mostly of the evocation of sentimental ties based upon genealogy and a recognition of the Scottish cultural heritage in music and song, in recreation, and in literature.

In the eighteenth century. however, Scotland and the Scottish people were a separately recognizable force in commerce, education, Calvinist religion, philosophy, science. and political administration. In the seventeenth century, Scotland even harboured imperial ambitions — not unlike those of the Netherlands and Portugal, equally small, talented, and ambitious countries — which led to the Darien venture in the area of present-day Panama. So influential and ubiquitous were Scots in American affairs in this period that it is a phenomenon that truly cries out for special treatment.

This exhibition claims no originality on the subject of Scotland and the Americas, with the one exception of the pluralizing of America in the title. In the course of the past forty years or so, there has been excellent scholarly scrutiny of a wide range of interconnections between Scotland and British America (see, as an outstanding recent example. Richard B. Sher and Jeffrey R. Smitten, eds., Scotland and America in the Age of Enlightenment [Princeton, 1990]. and the many suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter in this catalogue). What this book does aim to do, however. is to forge a link between, on the one hand. scholars, who delve into primary sources and are in constant touch with one another about the state of the field, and on the other, general audiences, who it may be said would tend to have little or no awareness of the extraordinary significance of Scotland in particular in the story of the colonial Americas.

By its inclusion, also, of the history of the Darien venture, this catalogue and the exhibition attempt to correct the common illusion that the mainland British colonies were somehow perceived in the eighteenth century, before let's say the 1700s, as a country with the special destiny of becoming the great democratic republic of the United States. For most of the eighteenth century, the importance for mankind of the mainland British colonies was yet to be revealed. No person viewing the Atlantic world of the eighteenth century could however, overlook the enormous Spanish presence in that world, not to speak of the French in the Caribbean and on the mainland. The territorial picture was far from fixed, in other words, and the estimation of the desirability of land or trade connections here or there. or old matters of political importance. was nothing like what it became by the second quarter of the nineteenth century, when thc future of the Americas began to assume definition closer to that of our own day. Only with this corrected perception is it possible to understand what the Scots were doing in Panama, which now seem today to have been a rather exotic choice for the establishment of an entrepot, or why the most famous work of the great Scottish historian William Robertson. The History of America (1777), is principally about Spanish America.

This catalogue has another purpose more specific to the John Carter Brown Library itself. Nearly always when the Library mounts an exhibition. one of our goals is to inform scholars of the range of our holdings in a particular subject area. The corresponding catalogue of the exhibition serves as a permanent guide to a segment of the collection and to some degree, as a stimulus to research. When historians are shown outcroppings of valuable ore, they are induced to begin mining. As is true of the Library's holdings of the printed works or virtually all European countries that had any connection with. or interest in, the Western Hemisphere—whether German, French. Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, whatever - the John Carter Brown Library’s collection of materials related to Scottish involvement with thc Americas is extensive. and in some special areas unmatched.

In order to serve this scholarly end more effectively, the catalogue includes a special component. In addition to the narrative in formation in each chapter covering about Its contemporary titles in all. the book contains an appendix that lists another 91 primary sources related to the subject of Scotland and the Americas that may be found at the John Carter Brown Library. This list, intially compiled by Professor Kent Donovan of Kansas State University, and expanded and developed by Dr. Burton Van Name Edwards on the John Carter Brown Library staff, is arbitrary in the sense that hundreds of other titles could just as well have been listed rather than these titles in particular. But the existing list succeeds very well in revealing the potential of the John Carter Brown Library for research on the theme of the exhibition.

The preparation of this appended list of Additional Resources in good bibliographical style, and the formal Bibliographical Supplement to the catalogue, which provides full and complete cataloguing data on each of the books that are featured in the exhibition, is the work of Dr. Edwards. who has npproached this project with genuine enthusiasm.

Professor Donovan was the original inspiration behind the exhibition and the catalogue, and we wish to acknowledge here his fundamental contribution to both. His work was extended and amplified by Michael Fry, to whom the Library is much indebted for an introduction to this book and for general editorial support.

The John Carter Brown Library's "Scotland and the Americas" project bvgan in 1992, with the initial planning for the 1994 annual meeting of the Eighteenth Century Scottish Studies Society. It was the aim of the Society's leadership to hold this meeting on the Brown University campus, with the John Carter Brown Library as host, and to focus in particular on America. The annual meeting of ECSSS held here June 8 to l2, 1994, was in fact a full scale, four-day conference on the theme, with the presentation of about forty scholarly papers. The experience of this conference. for which Professor Ned Landsman was the able program chairman, was naturally enriching to the development of the exhibition and this catalogue. It is anticipated that in addition to this exhibition catalogue a collection of selected essays from the conference will be published next year by ECSSS.

Finally, the Library wishes to express its profound gratitude to those friends of the John Carter Brown Library and of Scotland who through their contributions have helped to alleviate the cost of this project, from its inception with the 1994 ECSSS conference to the 1995 exhibition at the Forbes Magazine Galleries. A list of sponsors and patrons of the project appears on p. iv. facing the half title page.

Norman Fiering
Director and Librarian

Download Scotland and the Americas here (pdf)

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