Fraser MacDonald

Fraser MacDonald teaches historical geography at Edinburgh.

From The Blog
3 June 2024

After the 1843 Disruption, when the Free Church of Scotland split from the Church of Scotland, some of its leaders tried to raise money from Presbyterians in the American South. Some of those who gave money were slavers. There was disapproval, but the money spoke louder – some sources say the church accepted £3000, others $3000. The American abolitionist Frederick Douglass came to Edinburgh in 1846 to urge the church to ‘Send Back the Money’. Last year, the Free Church Board of Trustees agreed to set up a committee of inquiry into these donations, led by the principal of the Edinburgh Theological Seminary, Rev. Iver Martin. The expectation was that it would report to this May’s General Assembly. ‘It’s an important issue,’ Donald Forsyth, the chairman of the trustees, said, ‘and we’re not going to dodge it. It needs to be addressed.’ It looks like it has been dodged.

Diary: Balmorality

Fraser MacDonald, 16 November 2023

Ilove Balmoral​. Not the castle, though it’s fine if you like a bit of crenellated cream puffery. But I love the hills and woods of the Balmoral estate, the restrained charisma of the River Dee as it winds through the farmland of Crathie. The ‘scenery became prettier & prettier’, Queen Victoria wrote on her first trip to Balmoral, ‘& there is much agriculture...

Short Cuts: What does a degree mean?

Fraser MacDonald, 29 June 2023

It’snot uncommon for a student to come to my office to tell me they’re not happy with their exam mark. ‘Perhaps you just made a mistake?’ one suggested to me last year. From the student’s perspective, this is a reasonable concern. We are all fallible. My response is twofold: I look at the feedback on the essay and explain how the merits of the work correspond...

On Marshy Ground: Fen, Bog and Swamp

Fraser MacDonald, 15 June 2023

Peat-cutting​ on the island of North Uist usually begins in mid-April, but the exact timing varies. One old crofter used to say that you should only start cutting when the yellow flag iris comes into flower because by then the oils in the bog will have risen, but not everyone waits that long. It might mean cutting too late, and then the peats won’t dry. If they’re not ready by...

In Time of Schism

Fraser MacDonald, 16 March 2023

Thereis a small but interesting literature on the sociology of schism. The classic studies draw on observations of revolutionary Marxists and Scottish Presbyterians, archetypes of fissile conviction, and show that schism isn’t always a mark of decline. The energy of opposition can bring renewal: Presbyterians sometimes split to survive. In the Highlands rival congregations exist side...

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