Aug 272015
 

As always, August in Edinburgh is abuzz with lots of exciting theatre and shows. We were delighted to have the opportunity to present our own show again this year, once more as part of the Beltane network’s Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. Written and presented by EDINA’s Nicola Osborne and Helen Aiton, a member of the Statistical Accounts editorial board, ‘Back to the Statistical Future’ explored parallels between the ‘New’ Statistical Accounts of Scotland (1834-1845) and our contemporary cultural and political contexts. The wonderful comedian Susan Morrison was master of ceremonies and ‘minister of the parish’ as the discussion ranging over topics such as education, social deprivation and welfare and libraries.

2015-08-26 15.40.21

Helen Aiton, Nicola Osborne and Susan Morrison on stage.

With the aid of a time machine and the fantastically-imagined ‘hover-board of social policy’ (a reference for the film buffs!) we posed the question of how different Scotland in 2015 is to Scotland in 1835. Might we be returning to a time, we asked, when libraries are only sustained by subscriptions? Is it possible that, as some of our ancestors believed, the poor are being ‘corrupted, by being taught to read and write’? As good education becomes increasingly costly and inaccessible, are our modern ‘lords and gentlemen’ motivated once more by the belief that the masses would be ‘more obedient and dutiful, were [we] more ignorant, and had no education’?

Pondering such subversive suggestions, the audience came up with some rather brilliant proposals including introducing dancing sessions to libraries, building more sustainable energy-driven social housing, allowing ordinary people to sit in parliament, and even taxing celebrities based on the column inches they generate.

Many thanks to all who made it possible, and to those who came and contributed their own dangerous ideas!

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Aug 052015
 

The first blog about the Statistical Accounts of Scotland service described how in May 1790, Sir John Sinclair wrote to every Church of Scotland Minister in each of the 938 parishes in Scotland with a list of 160 questions plus an addendum of 6 further questions. Sir John intended to use the responses to his very thorough range of questions to elucidate the Natural History and Political State of Scotland or “the quantum of happiness” of its people.

Whilst researching the origins of the first Statistical Accounts for a performance at the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas on the Edinburgh Fringe, myself and Nicola Osborne from EDINA discovered an additional five questions in the next very persuasive circular letter from Sir John Sinclair, which the Ministers received in January 1791, 8 months after the initial request.

SIR,

   IT is with infinite pleasure I have the honour of acquainting you, that by the zeal and patriotism of the clergy of Scotland, I have already in my possession materials for drawing up a Statistical Account of a considerable part of the whole kingdom…

..But I am anxious that the Clergy of Scotland should not only do it well, but quickly; so that the state of the whole country should be known, if possible, at nearly the same period of time.  I therefore hope, Sir, that, for the honour of our national church, you will make every exertion in your power to send me as full, and as accurate an account, as possible of your  parish…

…In the queries formerly sent, some particulars were omitted, of which I should be glad to be informed, even from those gentlemen who have already favoured me with their answers: as,   

1. What is the state of the schools in the parish; the salary and perquisites of the schoolmaster; and the number of his scholars?  

2. What is the number of alehouses, inns, &c.; and what effect have they on the morals of the people?  

3. What is the number of new houses or cottages which have been built within those ten years past; and how many old ones have been pulled down, or have become uninhabitable?  

4. What has been the effect of employing cottagers in agriculture, or of working by hired servants in their stead? and,  

5. What has been the number of prisoners in any jail in the district, in the course of the year 1790; and for what causes were they imprisoned?   

Tables of births, marriages, and deaths, kept in any particular parish would be very desirable.  Nor can the information respecting all points connected with the population of the country, be too accurate and minute.

 

We are not aware of what the “patriotic and zealous” Parish ministers thought when they received this request for yet more information, especially those who had already responded very promptly! It would be a further eight years before all of the twenty-one Volumes of the First Statistical Accounts of Scotland were published.

These questions, along with images and transcripts of the first 166 questions can be found within the Related Resources Section of the Statistical Account Service.

– Helen Aiton June 2015

Helen Aiton and Nicola Osborne present ‘Back to the Statistical Future‘ as part of  The Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas at the Stand Comedy, Edinburgh. 

How different is Scotland in 2015, to Scotland in 1835?

As good education is increasingly costly and inaccessible to the poor, are we seeing our modern ‘lords and gentlemen’ believing we will be ‘more obedient and dutiful, were [we] more ignorant, and had no education’?

Might our poor potentially be ‘corrupted, by being taught to read and write’? Might we be returning to a time when libraries are only sustained by subscriptions?

Join us for a whistle stop hover-board ride through the bizarre parallels between modern Scotland and the ‘New’ Statistical Accounts of Scotland (1834-1845).

@CODIfringe

 

We hope you have enjoyed this post: it is characteristic of the rich historical material available within the ‘Related Resources’ section of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland service. Featuring essays, maps, illustrations, correspondence, biographies of compliers, and information about Sir John Sinclair’s other works, the service provides extensive historical and bibliographical detail to supplement our full-text searchable collection of the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Statistical Accounts.

 

 

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