Among the general benefits of the
study of history is the attention it draws necessarily to the importance of
precision and specificity in all discourse. Dig into almost any subject in the
past. and it will surely turn out that the way things happened was more complex
than one had assumed at the beginning. This exhibition on “Scotland and the
Americas, 1600 to 1800" is in good part the result of such a concern for proper
In the twentieth century, Scotland remains a culturally distinctive geographical
place, but in most respects it is merged into Great Britain or the United
Kingdom. The study of the relations between Scotland and the United States today
would consist mostly of the evocation of sentimental ties based upon genealogy
and a recognition of the Scottish cultural heritage in music and song, in
recreation, and in literature.
In the eighteenth century. however, Scotland and the Scottish people were a
separately recognizable force in commerce, education, Calvinist religion,
philosophy, science. and political administration. In the seventeenth century,
Scotland even harboured imperial ambitions — not unlike those of the Netherlands
and Portugal, equally small, talented, and ambitious countries — which led to
the Darien venture in the area of present-day Panama. So influential and
ubiquitous were Scots in American affairs in this period that it is a phenomenon
that truly cries out for special treatment.
This exhibition claims no originality on the subject of Scotland and the
Americas, with the one exception of the pluralizing of America in the title. In
the course of the past forty years or so, there has been excellent scholarly
scrutiny of a wide range of interconnections between Scotland and British
America (see, as an outstanding recent example. Richard B. Sher and Jeffrey R.
Smitten, eds., Scotland and America in the Age of Enlightenment [Princeton,
1990]. and the many suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter
in this catalogue). What this book does aim to do, however. is to forge a link
between, on the one hand. scholars, who delve into primary sources and are in
constant touch with one another about the state of the field, and on the other,
general audiences, who it may be said would tend to have little or no awareness
of the extraordinary significance of Scotland in particular in the story of the
By its inclusion, also, of the history of the Darien venture, this catalogue and
the exhibition attempt to correct the common illusion that the mainland British
colonies were somehow perceived in the eighteenth century, before let's say the
1700s, as a country with the special destiny of becoming the great democratic
republic of the United States. For most of the eighteenth century, the
importance for mankind of the mainland British colonies was yet to be revealed.
No person viewing the Atlantic world of the eighteenth century could however,
overlook the enormous Spanish presence in that world, not to speak of the French
in the Caribbean and on the mainland. The territorial picture was far from
fixed, in other words, and the estimation of the desirability of land or trade
connections here or there. or old matters of political importance. was nothing
like what it became by the second quarter of the nineteenth century, when thc
future of the Americas began to assume definition closer to that of our own day.
Only with this corrected perception is it possible to understand what the Scots
were doing in Panama, which now seem today to have been a rather exotic choice
for the establishment of an entrepot, or why the most famous work of the great
Scottish historian William Robertson. The History of America (1777), is
principally about Spanish America.
This catalogue has another purpose more specific to the John Carter Brown
Library itself. Nearly always when the Library mounts an exhibition. one of our
goals is to inform scholars of the range of our holdings in a particular subject
area. The corresponding catalogue of the exhibition serves as a permanent guide
to a segment of the collection and to some degree, as a stimulus to research.
When historians are shown outcroppings of valuable ore, they are induced to
begin mining. As is true of the Library's holdings of the printed works or
virtually all European countries that had any connection with. or interest in,
the Western Hemisphere—whether German, French. Portuguese, Italian, Dutch,
Spanish, whatever - the John Carter Brown Library’s collection of materials
related to Scottish involvement with thc Americas is extensive. and in some
special areas unmatched.
In order to serve this scholarly end more effectively, the catalogue includes a
special component. In addition to the narrative in formation in each chapter
covering about Its contemporary titles in all. the book contains an appendix
that lists another 91 primary sources related to the subject of Scotland and the
Americas that may be found at the John Carter Brown Library. This list, intially
compiled by Professor Kent Donovan of Kansas State University, and expanded and
developed by Dr. Burton Van Name Edwards on the John Carter Brown Library staff,
is arbitrary in the sense that hundreds of other titles could just as well have
been listed rather than these titles in particular. But the existing list
succeeds very well in revealing the potential of the John Carter Brown Library
for research on the theme of the exhibition.
The preparation of this appended list of Additional Resources in good
bibliographical style, and the formal Bibliographical Supplement to the
catalogue, which provides full and complete cataloguing data on each of the
books that are featured in the exhibition, is the work of Dr. Edwards. who has
npproached this project with genuine enthusiasm.
Professor Donovan was the original inspiration behind the exhibition and the
catalogue, and we wish to acknowledge here his fundamental contribution to both.
His work was extended and amplified by Michael Fry, to whom the Library is much
indebted for an introduction to this book and for general editorial support.
The John Carter Brown Library's "Scotland and the Americas" project bvgan in
1992, with the initial planning for the 1994 annual meeting of the Eighteenth
Century Scottish Studies Society. It was the aim of the Society's leadership to
hold this meeting on the Brown University campus, with the John Carter Brown
Library as host, and to focus in particular on America. The annual meeting of
ECSSS held here June 8 to l2, 1994, was in fact a full scale, four-day
conference on the theme, with the presentation of about forty scholarly papers.
The experience of this conference. for which Professor Ned Landsman was the able
program chairman, was naturally enriching to the development of the exhibition
and this catalogue. It is anticipated that in addition to this exhibition
catalogue a collection of selected essays from the conference will be published
next year by ECSSS.
Finally, the Library wishes to express its profound gratitude to those friends
of the John Carter Brown Library and of Scotland who through their contributions
have helped to alleviate the cost of this project, from its inception with the
1994 ECSSS conference to the 1995 exhibition at the Forbes Magazine Galleries. A
list of sponsors and patrons of the project appears on p. iv. facing the half
Director and Librarian
Scotland and the Americas here (pdf)