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Rosalind Mitchison on the history of Scotland

Rosalind Mitchison, 22 January 1981

Presbyteries and Profits: Calvinism and the Development of Capitalism in Scotland 1506-1707 
by Gordon Marshall.
Oxford, 406 pp., £18, September 1980, 0 19 827246 4
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The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746 
by Bruce Lenman.
Eyre Methuen, 300 pp., £9.95, May 1980, 0 413 39650 9
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... It is over seventy years since Max Weber put forward the thesis that the Protestant ethic was closely linked to the ethos of capitalism, a thesis which has inspired a long-standing debate among historians. In the cases held to support the theory, Weber included Scotland. Economic historians have at various times commented on the paradox of the Scottish case, contrasting the backward economy of the country in the 17th century with its monolithic adherence to an extreme form of Calvinism, but nobody has, till now, taken the trouble to make a thorough study of whether the evidence from Scotland confirms or contradicts Weber’s theory ...

Simplicity Smith

Rosalind Mitchison, 6 March 1980

A System of Social Science: Papers relating to Adam Smith 
by Andrew Skinner.
Oxford, 278 pp., £9.75, November 1979, 0 19 828422 5
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... Here are nine separate essays on different aspects of the whole construction of Adam Smith’s thought, written originally for separate publication during the past eight or nine years, but now reworked to link and hold together. Because of the reworking, the book shows Adam Smith as the creator of a whole system of knowledge including science, anthropology, moral philosophy, psychology and history, as well as the founder of economics ...

Foremost Economist

Rosalind Mitchison, 25 October 1979

Population Malthus 
by Patricia James.
Routledge, 524 pp., £17.50
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... Three names​ dominate the debates on the social policy of 19th-century Britain: Bentham, Malthus and Chalmers. The first two were original thinkers whose ideas often contradict the system popularly ascribed to them. We have been forced over the last few years to recognise that Bentham’s idea of government was far more sophisticated than the particular pieces of legislation usually labelled Benthamite ...

Washday

Rosalind Mitchison, 10 January 1983

A woman’s work is never done: A History of Housework in the British Isles 1650-1950 
by Caroline Davidson.
Chatto, 250 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 7011 3901 3
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... This book is not founded on doctrinaire feminism but on very wide reading. It uses memoirs and letters, local history publications, ballads and chapbooks, social surveys, inventories and advertisements, and the richness of its sources gives it a fine flavour. There are also some historical oddities to be noticed. One eccentricity is the confusion between Charles I and Charles II ...

Gellner’s Grenade

Rosalind Mitchison, 21 June 1984

Nations and Nationalism 
by Ernest Gellner.
Blackwell, 150 pp., £12.50, July 1983, 0 631 12992 8
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... This is a small book, but one of high density, both in ideas and, at times, in expression. Gellner’s field of concern is the modern world, and though occasionally he casts a look at Mediaeval Europe and Islam, it is in the 20th century that his interest lies, as does what evidence he can muster to support his themes. His view is simple and stark. Nationalism is not the product of history, in the sense that historical factors and institutions have shaped the cultures which have claimed national identity ...

Happier Days

Rosalind Mitchison, 4 April 1991

Scottish Voices 1745-1960 
by T.C. Smout and Sydney Wood.
Collins, 334 pp., £16.95, August 1990, 0 00 215190 1
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... 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 ...

Cookson County

Rosalind Mitchison, 27 June 1991

The Hanging Tree 
by Allan Massie.
Heinemann, 346 pp., £13.99, November 1990, 0 434 45301 3
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Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor 
by Allan Massie.
Hodder, 256 pp., £13.95, January 1991, 0 340 48788 7
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The Gillyflors 
by Catherine Cookson.
Bantam, 366 pp., £13.99, October 1990, 0 593 01726 9
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... 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 ...

Mending the curtains

Rosalind Mitchison, 24 January 1991

Naomi MitchisonA Biography 
by Jill Benton.
Pandora, 192 pp., £15.95, September 1990, 0 04 440460 3
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... 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. Is a biography of someone living acceptable? Is it likely to be true, or fair? Biography isn’t just the record of a life, or a life and work, but also the ...

Portrait of the Scottish Poor

Rosalind Mitchison, 5 June 1980

The State of the Scottish Working Class in 1843 
by Ian Levitt and Christopher Smout.
Scottish Academic Press, 284 pp., £7.50, December 1979, 0 7073 0247 1
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... This book is based on one of the most thorough of 19th-century government inquiries, the six volumes of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law (Scotland) of 1844. The Commission had, the year before, put out an elaborate questionnaire to the 906 parishes of Scotland, usually to the minister, with 70 questions on it, most of which were answered for almost all the parishes ...

Lord Eskgrove’s Indecent Nose

Rosalind Mitchison, 24 January 1980

Lord Cockburn: A Bicentenary Commemoration 
edited by Alan Bell.
Scottish Academic Press, 204 pp., £6, December 1980, 0 7073 0245 5
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... Henry Cockburn’s writings make him a vital historical source for the study of Scotland in what he called ‘the last purely Scotch age’. They cover the spread of the new industrial world and Georgian architecture, assaults on woodland and ancient monuments, the adaptation of refined society in Edinburgh to Evangelicalism, the threat of radical revolt, closer connections with England ...

Highland Fling

Rosalind Mitchison, 18 June 1981

Clans and Chiefs 
by Ian Grimble.
Blond and Briggs, 267 pp., £10.95, December 1980, 0 85634 111 8
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... A book containing no reference apparatus and no bibliography is not claiming to be a work of scholarship in any of the usual senses. Carefully and spiritedly done, the interpretation and presentation of history for the general public is entirely respectable. But what we have here is neither careful nor spirited. That Dr Grimble has read, unevenly, but in places deeply, if without system or critical faculty, is shown by confused echoes of other people’s research ...

Up to Islip

Rosalind Mitchison, 2 August 1984

An Old Man’s Diary 
by A.J.P. Taylor.
Hamish Hamilton, 155 pp., £8.95, April 1984, 0 241 11247 8
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... The examining in my university is over for the year. After the usual haggling – ‘is this worth 69 or 70?’ – with nasty points of principle raised and evaded, the lists have been signed, and that is the end of what a colleague once described as ‘the annual session of egg grading’. We are free to go to the hills, equipped with walking boots, a hotel booking, a Highland bus time-table and the literature for the West Highland Way ...

Modern Wales

Rosalind Mitchison, 19 November 1981

Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880-1980 
by Kenneth O. Morgan.
Oxford, 463 pp., £15, March 1981, 0 19 821736 6
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... This is Volume VI of the new history of Wales, under the general editorship of Professor Glanmor Williams. It presents general history as general history ought to be – which means that though the main emphasis lies on the changing world of politics, this is related closely to the basic economy and to alterations in the values of the society, particularly in religion, literature and national sentiment ...

South Britain

Rosalind Mitchison, 1 April 1982

The Economic History of Britain since 1700. Vol. 1: 1700-1860 
edited by Roderick Floud and Donald McCloskey.
Cambridge, 323 pp., £25, October 1981, 0 521 23166 3
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The Economic History of Britain since 1700. Vol. II: 1860 to the 1970s 
edited by Roderick Floud and Donald McCloskey.
Cambridge, 485 pp., £30, October 1981, 0 521 23167 1
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... The introduction to these volumes states that the chapters ‘make up an economic history of England and Wales since 1700’, thereby displaying a curtailed concept of Britain. Most of the chapters concentrate on England, though almost all of the tables, of which there are many, are based on figures for Great Britain as a whole or, in Volume II, for the United Kingdom ...

Knowing more

Rosalind Mitchison, 14 September 1989

Poets, Polities and the People 
by V.G. Kiernan, edited by Harvey Kaye.
Verso, 239 pp., £29.95, June 1989, 0 86091 245 0
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For King and Conscience: John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee 
by Magnus Linklater and Christian Hesketh.
Weidenfeld, 244 pp., £16.95, June 1989, 0 297 79540 6
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... Victor Kiernan is here presenting essays produced over the last 45 years: the texts are only occasionally given recent additions. The topics include three essays on literature but are otherwise historical: on English patterns of protest, the expansion of literacy among working men, political aspects of religion, and Communist activity in the Thirties and after ...

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