Rosalind Mitchison

Rosalind Mitchison a professor of social history at the University of Edinburgh, is the author of A History of Scotland and editor of The Roots of Nationalism. Union of the Crowns and Union of the Kingdoms is to be published later this year by Edward Arnold.

Missing Elements

Rosalind Mitchison, 14 May 1992

In all our sets of mental pigeonholes there is one labelled ‘don’t bother’. It contains groups of people and of ideas to which we have decided not to pay attention. These books, in one way or another, relate to such groups.


Counterfactual History

13 February 1992

Counterfactual history repels many historians because of the difficulty of knowing enough about all aspects of a period for the counter-factual proposal to be, as your reviewer Charles Maier says, ‘capable of insertion into the real past’. What we know about the past is constantly changing as research invalidates older views. Maier’s review of 13 February reveals that for certain periods either...

Cookson County

Rosalind Mitchison, 27 June 1991

A lot of novelists write historical novels. A lot of people read them. Notably, more Scots read historical novels set in Scotland than read the history of Scotland. The question for the historian is why. Part of the answer, of course, lies in the market facts in the question. If there is a readership, books will be produced. It might be argued that readers want their history mediated by a skilled writer. This would be true only if what they really want is history, and if ‘writers’ are bound to write better than do historians. After delving into the genre I am doubtful about both conditions.

Happier Days

Rosalind Mitchison, 4 April 1991

Here is an anthology of pieces drawn from published hooks on life in Scotland, mostly memoirs and mostly familiar to historians. Old friends include George Robertson, Joseph Mitchell, Thomas Somerville and Ramsay of Ochtertyre. The accounts are separated into themes, such as school, factory and mine, leisure, crime (though none of the memorialists claim active participation in this). The excerpts are long enough to carry the style and emphasis of the original, and they are well chosen and tactfully introduced. There is a short and skimpy glossary for those unfamiliar with the few Scottish words used and some good photographs.

Mending the curtains

Rosalind Mitchison, 24 January 1991

To Carradale in August. We come over on a day of rare beauty. Deep cloud shadows bring out the breasts and shoulders of Arran. The car is stuffed with basic supplies, briefcases, heavy sweaters, the odd book. I have Pepys’s Tangier diary to digest, an old Navy Record Society publication. The house is in its usual confusion and piles of slates and scaffolding show the common West Highland problem of keeping a roof going. Four cows are on the croquet lawn, straying every now and then to grab a mouthful of escallonia from the bushes. Is it poisonous? We don’t know. They show up another rural problem, the maintenance of fencing. The teenagers are disconcerted by a bat in their bedroom. Dinner is a disaster area. Afterwards, as the dusk comes, I see a great new rent in the big drawing-room curtains which I thought I had mended once and for all. Jill Benton’s Naomi Mitchison lies on the sofa ignored by its subject, who is correcting proofs of a book of short stories.

Joining them

Conrad Russell, 24 January 1985

Goodwin Wharton is a fascinating and amusing figure, but he is sui generis: the same things which make his flirtations with the occult such amusing reading also make it difficult to compare his...

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