Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Scots' Invention of the Modern World

Just been reading "The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots' Invention of the Modern World" (check it out at []), in which Arthur Herman argues that the Scots - through our thinkers and engineers, and later through our successful export of over three million Scots to far-flung corners of the World - are responsible not only for tremendous technological developments, but also for those aspects of modern culture which emphasise experimentation, free markets, strong belief in the utility of education.

I enjoy the book because (a) it gives facts to sustain beliefs I already had, (b) helps in chauvinist battles against the English, and (c) is quite well-written.

But it is important to note that the author's definition of 'Scottish' is both elastic and not 'traditional'. It is elastic in that it includes Ulster Scots, quite anglicised Scots, and, sometimes, those educated in the Scottish mould - going so far as to claim Gibbon's Decline and Fall as a Scottish work in the best tradition of Henry Kames' Sketches on the History of Man.

Second, the definition of Scottish used is not 'traditional' - in that it doesn't play on traditional pastiches of Highland life cooked up by Scott. This is a strong point, in that these pastiches are pretty awful (even if they benefit tourists), but I think the author under-emphasises the extent to which, if the Scots created the British Empire and more, the English also created the Scots. (There's a good Hobsbawm essay on this).

Still, very worth reading. I dare say I'll fare better in future chauvinist Anglo-bashing in future :)

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