From iron collar to irn-bru

Thursday 1 November 2001

A book hailed as the most definitive record of Scotland’s history is claiming to puncture the nation’s best-known stereotypes.

The New Penguin History of Scotland – edited by University of St Andrews historians Professor R A Houston and Dr W W J Knox – covers the last 8,000 years and homes in on everything from diet, emigration and the kilt to warfare and the origin of the much- maligned midge, culminating with the arrival of the Scottish Parliament in the year 2000.

To be launched in Edinburgh and St Andrews (on 8 and 14 November respectively), the epic presents the real history behind the stereotypical Scotland, overturning myths and challenging beliefs.

Specific issues covered include the role of society and the family. The book explores the extent to which the stereotype of a Scottish family – “Maw, Paw and the weans” – is actually a caricature both now and in the past. It also looks at the image of a “housewife”, a term which 21st century women associate with mothers and grandmothers but which, in the greater scheme of 10,000 years of Scotland, is a relatively modern image with more women having worked in industry in the past than they do at present.

Meanwhile, the book also addresses issues of origin and identity. Are the Scots really Celts or was Scotland always a racial melting pot? It answers questions such as “Where does the myth of the savage Highlander come from?” The rugged and romantic image of a kilt- wearing Highlander, believed to represent Scottish identity, actually originates from one of the most savagely repressed groups of society to date.

Looking at linguistics, the book also answers the question why an English/Scots speaking, urban and industrial country like Scotland borrows the symbols of its nationality from a Gaelic and Highland past. Gaelic is traditionally the national language but, with only 2% of the Scottish population speaking Gaelic and more speakers living in Strathclyde than on Skye, the authors question the irony of this tradition.

Co-editor Dr Bill Knox admits the book may be controversial but it is accurate – “The book is written by experts in their own fields but is accessible and inclusive. No one person is sufficiently qualified to document the entire history of the nation but, by combining 13 experts with an excellent knowledge of debates and issues, we have a book which is challenging, witty and, by answering the question, “Who are the Scots?” presents the real history of Scotland.”

The book also homes in on key Scottish figures and challenges the accuracy of their traditional image. For example, University of St Andrews historian Professor Keith Brown describes Mary Queen of Scots as a “bungler” while Professor Bruce Lenman concludes that “By 1747, Jacobitism was a busted flush” and that the Young Pretender ended his life as nothing more than “an Italian drunk”.

Beautifully illustrated in association with the National Museums of Scotland, the book contains contributions from five University of St Andrews historians.



For further details/interview requests, please contact Claire Grainger or Gayle Cook – contact details below.

Photographs from the book include 17th century playing cards showing the arms of the last Scottish nobles who sat on the Scottish Parliament until the union of 1707; regalia; spinning/weaving tools and the first rotary printing press. For copies, please contact Nikki Barrow, Publicity Manager, Penguin, telephone 020 7010 3121 or email [email protected].

The book will be launched at Waterstone’s, George Street, Edinburgh on 8 November and John Smith Bookshop, Market Street, St Andrews on 14 November. For further details, please contact Nikki Barrow, Publicity Manager, Penguin, telephone 020 7010 3121 or email [email protected].

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462530/467227, 07730 415 015, 07900 050 103 or email cg24@st- or gec3@st- Ref: historyofscotland/standrews/chg/1no v2001


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