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Winners Announced: The Inaugural Prize for the Best Paper in Scottish Local History

  09 Nov '20   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Two papers about seventeenth-century Scotland have won a new prize for Scottish history-writing sponsored by Birlinn. John Harrison and Allan Kennedy were each awarded a £100 prize, after the judging panel repeatedly reached deadlock. Their papers, about a 1674 climate crisis and the Cromwellian garrison at Inverness respectively, were judged the best published in the journal of the Scottish Local History Forum in the previous twelve months. As a publisher with a deep tradition of excellence in publishing Scottish history, we are delighted to partner with SLHF to sponsor the prize.

Paul Bishop, Chair of the Scottish Local History Forum, says:

The Forum is very pleased that we have been able to team up with Birlinn to offer this annual prize. The judging panel is looking for a paper that makes a real contribution to our understanding of local history, while placing that history into a wider national context. We are in the happy situation this year of not being able to separate the top two papers and so we have awarded two prizes. Congratulations to both authors.

The ‘Drifty Days’, the subject of John G. Harrison’s paper, refers to a period of heavy snowfall and heavy losses amongst sheep flocks which sent agricultural rents tumbling. Such was its severity in the Borders that it entered local folklore. Harrison, a professional historian from Stirling, used digital records to investigate whether, in fact, the effects of this event were experienced right across Scotland, making it a national climate crisis. The paper also asks how people, from the government to the poor, responded. He says:

It seemed unlikely that the storm, known to legend as The Drifty Days, was confined only to the Borders as was the tradition. But how to locate evidence? Kirk Session and Presbytery Minutes for much of Scotland are now available digitally in your local archives, making extensive search practical. And from Liddesdale to Kirkwall, from January to March 1674, they record disruption of services, the suffering of the poor and the deaths of livestock. A national crisis is revealed by local records.

Allan Kennedy’s paper, ‘Cromwell’s Highland Stronghold: The Sconce of Inverness’, examines how Cromwell’s English Commonwealth garrisoned and governed Scotland in the years of occupation between the defeat of Charles II at Worcester in 1651 and the Restoration of 1660. The pentagonal fort built at Inverness, which became known as the ‘sconce’, was imposing, formidably equipped with artillery and home to as many as 1,000 English soldiers at its peak. Kennedy argues that the garrison played an essential role in the town’s development.

Kennedy, who is a lecturer in History at the University of Dundee, said:

My essay grew out of my wider research into the relationship between the Scottish Highlands and central government in the 17th century. I’d already done some work on the Restoration period (1660-88), and I was curious to see how far the patterns I’d uncovered had been foreshadowed during the 1650s. That, in turn, got me interested in the dynamic, multifaceted role played by Cromwell’s major garrisons in his government of Scotland. Among the largest of these was the one in Inverness, and it was in trying to understand the relationship between the town and its citadel that the paper took shape.

The papers are available for download at the Scottish Local History Forum website. Hugh Andrew, Managing Director of Birlinn said:

Both these papers are models of research illustrating how a local view of history can shed much light on a national picture. Clear and concise, both represent excellent examples of original and focussed archival work and the information it can yield.

A number of Birlinn titles provide more information about the topics of each paper. The story of the forts at Inverness features in our glorious mapping books Scotland: Mapping the Nation and Scotland: Defending the Nation; an account of the climate crisis with Scotland at its heart is to be found in Alastair McIntosh’s timely Riders on the Storm: The Climate Crisis and the Surivival of Being.

Scottish Local History, the journal of the Scottish Local History Forum, is published three times a year and forwarded to the membership, who also receive an electronic newsletter Clish-Clash every two months.

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