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How ideas travelled in Europe in the 19th century

Wood engraving of Forth Rail Bridge, 1891

The ‘long 19th century’, which extended from the time of the French Revolution to the First World War, was a period of vast cultural activity in Scotland. Through the literary works of Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Margaret Oliphant, the scientific innovations of Joseph Lister, James Simpson and Mary Somerville and the philosophy of Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish Enlightenment’s influence was far-reaching across nations and centuries.

But how did ideas circulate in Scotland, and the rest of Europe, in this period? How were they spread through language learning, translation, literary salons, cafés, writing, migration and immigration?

The study of these concepts is complex and multi-faceted but a University of Strathclyde researcher has developed a new framework for exploring the study of Scotland’s cultural relationship with Europe.

Dr Katharine Mitchell, a Lecturer in the School of Humanities, has, with partners at the University of Glasgow, established the Scottish Network for Nineteenth-Century European Cultures, which offers new perspectives on Scottish and European connections and exchanges with ‘nations-in-the-making’ during the 19th century and examines their lessons for today following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The network forms part of the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF).

Dr Mitchell said: “Scotland had a close relationship with various countries in the 19th century, particularly France, and there was extensive immigration to Scotland from Ireland and Italy. It’s a fascinating period in which education became institutionalised and access to education was widened.

“The 19th century saw great changes in industry and travel. There was a desire to seek out ‘the other’, and the possibility of doing so was much more accessible to the new middle classes.

“Our project also raises the importance of the ability to read and understand primary sources in their original language, which opens up new interpretations of Scotland’s past, its peoples, and material objects.”

The study has been funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.