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.

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.

Kind Words for Strathpeffer

Rosalind Mitchison, 24 May 1990

Hugh Kearney has written a book to assert the reality of the British Isles as an intercommunicating group of cultures with many features in common but also with strong regional or national differences. It is a timely reminder that the political dominance of these islands by England from the 17th century covers only a small part of their various histories. We are reminded vigorously of the Irish cultural dominance in the sixth and seventh centuries, the political dominance by Scandinavia of almost the whole island complex in the tenth century, and the control by a relatively small group of Normans in the 12th and 13th centuries. These periods show that there is nothing historically inevitable in the political and cultural rule of Big Brother in London and the South-East. An interesting suggestion is that the emphasis on the South-East was originated by the market power of London rather than by religious, political or administrative changes instigated by the English state. London’s potential as a port put it into the international range of city size along with Antwerp and Venice, but for this to be effective the food supplies of the city had to come from all the coastal and riverine areas of Southern Britain. Culture, religion and politics followed the shopping basket.

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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