My main interests are in Scotland's relationship with England and the rest of the UK, now and in the past, and Scottish society from the seventeenth century. So I've been working on Whig ideology and culture and its impact, memorisalisation in Scotland - particularly of figues such as Robert Burns, and everyday life. Burns is the subject of my latest book, Immortal Memory: Burns and the Scottish People (John Donald/Birlinn).
As someone who left school at 16 and therefore entered academic life later than most of my contemporaries I’ve long recognised the transformational role that further and higher education can play in people’s lives. I believe too that universities have a responsibility to teach the virtues of academic rigour but also to create environments which enable students to maximise their potential after graduation. Early in 2013 we established 5 Million Questions, a project designed to enhance public understanding of the issues raised by the independence referendum debate in Scotland, which will culminate in a vote on Scotland’s constitutional future in September 2014. I chair the project steering group, which organises lectures, debates, symposia and manages a lively website.
Since returning to Dundee after a spell in St Andrews I’ve striven to enhance the reputation and standing of the University of Dundee. This I began by leading what was then the Department of History to become one of the best for teaching and research in Scotland. Subsequently I’ve worked with colleagues from a wider range of disciplines to achieve academic excellence but wherever possible by engaging with the wider community which, after all, funds what we do in universities.
With Derek Patrick, I've taught a Level 4 module that looks at the Restoration in Scotland, the ‘Glorious’ Revolution of 1689, the Union of 1707 and the Jacobite challenge.
Crisis of Union, 1689-1715
The Creation of Modern Scotland, 1707-1850
Restoration, Revolution, Union and Rebellion: Scotland c.1660-c.1760
I've successfully supervised several postgraduates who have worked on topics in the period c.1650-c.1900 and hope in future to assist more students to embark on research projects in the field of early modern/modern Scottish history.
I’ve always been interested in Scottish history, although earlier in my career my focus was on economic history. Subsequently my interests have broadened to encompass social and political history, mainly but not exclusively from the seventeenth century onwards. I’ve written about industry, work, labour organisation and popular protest, as well as about the ways this last was managed by urban rulers who feared the prospect of riotous mobs in their midst. I enjoy working with scholars from other disciplines, mainly art historians and Scottish literature specialists, and have published work on the Scottish novelist John Galt and most recently (2011, 2013 and 2014), on Robert Burns – exploring how his memory was fixed, not only in print and through his numerous poet-disciples but also in statues and other material forms.
Most of my research effort in the past twenty years or so has been devoted to the history of everyday life in Scotland (I co-edited a four-volume series published by Edinburgh University Press), and relations between Scotland and England. My principal interest has been the Union of 1707, its causes and its aftermath, a study of which appeared in 2006 as The Scots and the Union (Edinburgh University Press). The following year this book won the Saltire Society’s Scottish History Book of the Year award. Given the interest there is currently in Scotland’s place within the UK, I’ve written a new edition of the book, as well as adding a section on the Union today. It's available now, as The Scots and the Union: Then and Now (EUP, 2014). This project has led me to explore what some historians have called anti-Jacobitism – that is what motivated supporters in Scotland of the Revolution of 1688-89, the Union and the Hanoverians, and what part they played in defending their cause against the Jacobites. This is my current research topic, about which I’ve already begun to publish (SHR, April 2013), with more I hope to follow.
I’ve delighted that several postgraduate students have shared my enthusiasm for the topics in Scottish history and they’ve successfully completed Masters and PhDs. I’d welcome anyone else who felt they’d enjoy and benefit from working with me.