English Research Seminar Dr Gerard Lee McKeever
Universal History: Books and Borrowing in 1770s Scotland
This paper will present research findings from the ongoing AHRC-funded project ‘Books and Borrowing 1750-1830: An Analysis of Scottish Borrowers' Registers, 1750-1830′ (see https://borrowing.stir.ac.uk/). Digitising, transcribing and interpreting manuscript library borrowing records, this project is producing a large-scale database of roughly 150,000 entries, an unprecedented evidence base for assessing what texts were actually circulating in Scotland in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Bring together records from eighteen (and counting) libraries spanning the length of the country from Orkney to Wigtownshire, the project is enabling a much more detailed, comparative view of library use across the nation than has previously been possible.
This talk will focus on the 1770s, a key decade for most accounts of the Scottish Enlightenment. It will bring borrowing records from the University of St Andrews into dialogue with those of the Dumfries Presbytery Library in the same period. In particular, the talk will unpack the dominance in these and other libraries of synoptic, multivolume histories including the Parisian historian Charles Rollin's Ancient History; Nicolas Tindal's English translation of Paul Rapin de Thoyras's History of England; and the stupendously ambitious collaborative Universal History, from the Earliest Account of Time. The 1770s show the relative stability of a mainstream eighteenth-century reading diet across disparate institutional contexts. However, with two French historians at the heart of Scottish literary culture, and with encyclopaedic survey works dominating reading practices in terms of volume, this material puts pressure on numerous received narratives of literary history.