Blogging Scottish History

Blogging Scottish History

Over the past few weeks I have been writing about Scottish history, in particular the lives and records of Scottish emigrants to Canada and the United States and the families they left behind in Scotland’s central belt. You can find an introduction to the Gilchrist and Shearer families here. With summer now firmly upon us, I thought I would share a few links to some online blogs and social media accounts that share their perspectives of Scottish history online.

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Edinburgh Castle — Photo credit: P. Dumas

This list is an introduction to some of the research being published and the organisations and researchers who are active on social media. It’s by no means exhaustive, ranked, or critically reviewed, but rather a fun collection of blogs to check out this summer. You’ll see that I’ve attempted to seek out a range of individual, group, and institution blogs for the list. Continue reading

Employment Opportunities in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Employment Opportunities in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Over the past several weeks I have written a series of posts that centre on a series of letters from one branch of my ancestors who lived and travelled between Scotland, Canada, and the USA. Please visit my introduction to the letters and my work on their news of births and deaths, their experiences with immigration and transatlantic travel, and agriculture and the environment in their old and new communities.

This week I want to build on the post I wrote about farming and agriculture by looking at some of the other branches of employment the authors of the letters and their friends and family were undertaking in the latter half of the eighteenth century in Scotland’s rural central belt.

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Segment of Shotts showing Hareshaw, Muirhouse, and the Kirk of Shotts, ‘Northern Part of Lanarkshire’, John Thompson’s Atlas of Scotland, 1832 [NLS]

From farming and mining to service in homes and religious institutions, the Gilchrists, Shearers, and their families and friends provide us with fascinating little details about their lives and their livelihoods. Continue reading

Farming and the Land in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Farming and the Land in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Over the past few posts I have been working through a series of letters from a Scottish branch of my ancestors and delving into some of the themes that come up. You can check out my introduction to the letters, and look at death and disease, and contemporary thoughts on emigration in my previous posts.

Today I’ll be looking at issues of agriculture and farming, another topic that comes up frequently in the letters. The Gilchrists and Shearers were not strictly farmers. Several worked in service (as servants), for example, and as such I’ll take a closer look at employment opportunities in a later post.

Farming opportunities, the land and the weather, and how the markets and trade in general were doing were of interest to the writers and recipients of these letters. These factors affected their well-being, their diet, their place of residence, and their ability to survive. Continue reading

Travel and Immigration: Insights from the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Travel and Immigration: Insights from the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

I have been writing about some of the themes that arise out of a series of letters from the latter half of the nineteenth century that travelled across the Atlantic between Scotland, Canada, and the United States. You can read my introduction to the letters here and my first thematic post on life and death in the letters here.

I’m following the story of some of my Scottish ancestors, and today the story brings us to a discussion of travel and immigration as shown in the letters.

Travel and Immigration in the Gilchrist Shearer Letters

The central figures in today’s letters are James Shearer Sr. and James Shearer, Jr. Continue reading

Summer Book Club: Seeley’s The Expansion of England

You are asked to think over English history as a whole and consider if you cannot find some meaning, some method in it, if you cannot state some conclusion to which it leads.  Hitherto perhaps you have learned names and dates, lists of kings, lists of battles and wars.  The time comes now when you are to ask yourselves, To what end?  For what practical purpose are these facts collected and committed to memory?  If they lead to no great truths having at the same time scientific generality and momentous practical bearings, then history is but an amusement and will scarcely hold its own in the conflict of studies…. No one can long study history without being haunted by the idea of development, of progress.

J.R. Seeley wrote these words as part of a series of lectures he gave at the University of Cambridge in 1881 and 1882, published as The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures in 1883.  Seeley was a professor of modern history at Cambridge from 1869 to 1895.

NPG Ax17824; Sir John Robert Seeley by Philip Crellin Jr

John Robert Seeley – photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Seeley examined modern British history with the goal of answering the question of what direction the world was headed.  His answer? Toward liberty, democracy, and the advancement of “greater” Britain. Continue reading

In the News: Roots of Unionist Political Parties in Northern Ireland

Since last week’s election, the Democratic Unionist Party has received more attention outside of Northern Ireland than it has in years, now holding the balance of power in the UK Parliament.  While the DUP was founded by Ian Paisley in 1971, the separation of political parties in Northern Ireland from the main United Kingdom parties has roots in the late nineteenth century before and during the Home Rule era.

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2017 General Election Results – BBC News

In the 1870s, sectarian strife in the north of Ireland was at a low ebb as both Catholics and Protestants united through Liberal Party politics.  Continue reading

Disease and Death in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Disease and Death in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

I am working my way through a series of letters sent between my Scottish ancestors and their families and friends in Scotland, Canada, and the USA. You can find my introduction to the letters here. Their authors have included some fascinating morsels of information about everyday life, and the nature of their letters also tells us about channels of communication that were maintained by Scots, regardless of where they travelled.

One thing that is immediately noticeable across these letters is that the authors were focussed on the putting the most important news first: that of their health and the health and wellbeing of family members and close friends. Unfortunately, this means that a number of the letters begin with news of recent (and not so recent) deaths. Continue reading

Scots in Canada: The Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

The Scottish people have a long history of migration and as a result many Canadians have Scottish roots.

I think there’s a tendency to lump all 18th and 19th century immigrants to Canada and the United States together and think of them as poor, desperate, unskilled workers, in some cases the victims of industrialisation, crop failure, land clearances, etc., and who by leaving for a new country would be abandoning everything and everyone they once knew, never to be heard from again. Continue reading

More Maps: John Speed’s Depictions of Ireland

Today we’re taking a look at John Speed’s depictions of Ireland in his Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, published in 1611/1612.  Speed (1552-1629), the best-known mapmaker of his era, included an overview of Ireland and maps of each province in his atlas.  As I described in a previous post, Speed used previously compiled sources to inform his atlas, but made the maps and other elements himself.

John Speed, Kingdome of Ireland - photo credit: British Library

John Speed, Kingdome of Ireland – photo credit: British Library

R. Dudley Edwards and Mary O’Dowd noted the importance of Speed’s maps in their Sources for Early Modern Irish History, 1534-1641, writing:

Among the most ambitious projects commissioned by a London bookseller in the early seventeenth century was John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, which appeared in 1611.  Speed devoted special attention to Ireland for which he provided a general map of the country and separate provincial maps.  This gives him, in the opinion of J.H. Andrews, the claim to be, in the eyes of contemporaries, the author of the definitive map as known till the mid seventeenth century in Britain and abroad.  Speed’s work was based on some of the ‘regional surveys, especially in the north, as well as Mercator’s general map of 1595, and, less, happily, Boazio.’  His work included the first printed plans for the towns of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick.  As Dr. Nuala Burke pointed out, Speed’s work was not necessarily up to date.  She considers, however, that Speed can be regarded as giving a ‘reasonably correct general impression of the actual early seventeenth century topography,’ though there can be errors in matters of detail.

While this was considered the definitive map of Ireland and its provinces for its time, there are biases and agendas at work in Speed’s depictions.  Continue reading

Josephine Roche’s Coal Mining Tour of Britain and France, 1945-1946

In September 1945, Josephine Roche arrived in London as part of a European trip to investigate coal mining across the Atlantic and to attend the conference of the International Labor Organization, to which she was delegated by President Harry S Truman.

Josephine Roche

Josephine Roche – photo credit: Library of Congress

Roche was the remarkable owner of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, operating several coal mines in Colorado’s Northern Coal Field. Her career spanned everything from working as Denver’s first woman police officer, serving as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and running the United Mine Workers’ Welfare and Retirement Fund.  She promoted workers’ rights, aided immigrants, ran for Colorado governor, supported Progressive Party politics, and fought for social and civic reform.

After Roche’s parents died in early 1927, she inherited her father’s minority holdings of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company.  After a strike, violence, and six deaths at the RMFC-owned Columbine Mine,  Roche gained majority control of the company. She announced that employee welfare would be a key component in the way the company was run.  The first permanent mutual union agreement ever signed by a coal mining company in Colorado was between the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company and the United Mine Workers in 1928.  This was considered a groundbreaking agreement for coal miners’ rights. Roche became known for her concern for her employees and their rights.

As Assistant Secretary of the Treasury beginning in 1934, Roche was the second woman to serve under a United States President.  She worked in the areas of education, finance, health, and welfare, helping to shape the Social Security Act and the National Youth Administration.  Her work in the realms of health and welfare laid the foundations for Medicare and Medicaid.

Her prominence in the political realm, in labor relations, and in the coal mining industry are all key contexts to her European trip immediately following the end of World War II.  Roche spent several days in London conducting background research, then traveled to Paris to attend the ILO conference.

Thirty-nine countries sent delegates to the International Labor Organization conference, held at the Sorbonne.  In her autobiography of Roche, Elinor McMinn writes of the conference, “The delegates described their wartime struggles to survive and expressed their common concern: to activate Europe’s paralyzed industrial and economic facilities and increase production of food, clothing, coal, and shelter.”  Roche was assigned by the ILO to study European coal production.  Robyn Muncy writes in Relentless Reformer, “Suffering terrible fuel shortages by war’s end, both France and Britain had nationalized their coal industries, and Roche was interested in how nationalization was affecting workers and whether the mines in each country would be able to retool fast enough to provide fuel for winter heating and industrial production.”  Roche also was commissioned by the Department of Industrial Studies of the Sage Foundation to collect information on British coal mining.  In addition, she wrote articles for the Survey Graphic and New York Herald Tribune about her findings and experiences – highlighting the interest in the United States for information about coal mining, industrial, and labor issues abroad.

After the end of the ILO conference, Roche toured coal mines of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais, reportedly becoming the first woman to descend into a French coal mine.  She perceived the French coal mining industry as being in a more positive position than the British because they had regained their pre-war production levels.

Traveling back to Britain, she embarked on a tour arranged by the Ministry of Fuel and Power.  Roche inspected the coal fields of Wales, northern England, and Scotland, going down into at least one mine per day, and discussing mining conditions with everyone from superintendents, engineers, miners, and even the miners’ wives.  She also studied the history of coal mining in Britain from medieval times.  Roche found that the root of current problems in the coal mining industry was the ownership structure, which she believed would have continued repercussions after nationalization.  McMinn writes, “Approximately four thousand families owned all the mines and leased them to many different operators, who all worked simultaneously to produce quick royalty profits for the owners.  Thus, an excessive number of small and poorly designed mines operated with a capacity inadequate to justify the equipment or technical staff essential for efficient mining practice.”  Mines had also been neglected and had inadequate technology, and also produced far less coal per day than American mines.  In addition, there was a postwar shortage of labor.

During her trip, the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act was introduced in Parliament and subsequently passed on 12 July 1946.  The Act established public ownership and control of the coal industry, set up the National Coal Board, and aimed to tackle issues with efficiency in the country’s coal mines.

Roche believed that a better course of action would be to empower the coal miners through strong unionization.  She stated, “The chief need in the English coal mines, where production remains a million tons a week below pre-war levels, appears to be a strong national union headed by a leader who can get results.”  She did not think that organizing coal mines to work in the national interest necessarily would be in the workers’ best interests.  Muncy writes that Roche believed the British Labour Party had betrayed the miners.  She approved of the government taking some role in economic intervention or regional planning, but in this case believed that miners “had simply exchanged one set of employers for another” without having a chance to bargain collectively for higher wages and safer working conditions.

According to Muncy, on this European trip, “what had crystallized for Roche was a belief that, in the achievement of economic justice, the crucial thing was not whether government or private interests operated an industry; the crucial issue was whether workers maintained independent power.”  After returning to the United States, Roche’s views of the European coal mines were part of her speeches on the lecture circuit, as audiences were eager to learn of post-war conditions abroad.

Further Reading:

Leigh Campbell-Hale, “Remembering Ludlow but Forgetting the Columbine: The 1927-1928 Colorado Coal Strike” (Unpublished PhD Diss., University of Colorado, 2013).

Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame: http://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/josephine-aspinwall-roche

Larry Dorsey, “Josephine Roche, a ‘Grand Old Gal,’” Superior Historian 3, no. 3 (Winter 2005).

Elinor McGinn, A Wide-Awake Woman: Josephine Roche in the Era of Reform (Denver: Colorado Historical Society, 2002).

Robyn Muncy, Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).