Hi, I’m Jenny and I created Random Scottish History, a website at RSH.scot. That website aims to compile and put out as much information on Scottish history and Scotland as possible, for the people interested.
I find this information from books, mainly, and newspaper resources. They are not new books, they are old books. They are books that I source from varying auction houses online. The specification for the books is that they are pre-20th century publications. I find publications, published post-20th century, are too biased with a British point-of-view. They don’t take Scotland as an independent entity. They see the island as a whole. All the nations as one. “We are One.” That was the propaganda, spread throughout the 1st and 2nd World Wars, and it tainted the history, thereafter, I find. There are histories out there from the 20th century that a perfectly sound but I prefer to aim for the original sources. History for history’s sake.
I was always into history but going onto permanent night shift at work meant that I had far more time on my hands and so I took to really getting about Victorian London and Classical Greek & Roman history. To that end I wanted to learn ancient Greek and so I did an Open University course. I completed four years of an Arts & Humanities course and, just on the cusp of learning the ancient Greek and beginning my studies to that end, the Scottish Referendum was scheduled and I thought, “I better turn my attention to something that’s important and closer to home,” and my historical attention was diverted towards Scotland’s direction.
For a first-time visitor, I would probably suggest heading straight for the Scanned Images. That gives you a really good idea of what is already uploaded. There are, of course, lots of scanned images throughout the chapters of the books but I think that’s more for when you know what it is you’re after and what you’re wanting to read. If you’re looking for something specific You can go to the Search Site/Contact/Donate tab at the top of the website, then click the word ‘Search’ which is in purple, as much as possible is purple at Random Scottish History, and it will take you to a custom Google search page. If you’re not finding what it is you’re after, then use the contact form to get a hold of me and I’ll see if I can answer your query.
When I started reading the books that I was collecting, I was finding information that I knew people weren’t aware of; I hadn’t heard it talked about, neither had I learned it at school. So, I began typing up the sections that really grabbed me and that I found of interest, posting them as Jpegs to Facebook. People were responding really positively to the information and were outing themselves as confused and surprised by the posts. My friend Bill suggested I set up a page devoted to the information, which I did, and the Random Scottish History Facebook Page was created. However, the information being Jpeg screenshots meant it wasn’t searchable. Creating the website was with the view of solving that problem. To that end, I began typing up entire books, including footnotes, appendices, everything, because I felt like, who was I to determine what another might find of interest.
Still being in permanent night shift employment means that the vast majority of my work is done after 11pm. Chambers’ Book of Days (1886) means I have a new homepage post every day and allows me to include previously posted, already uploaded information, from a variety of sources, in the “In Other Sources” section, which link to their respective chapters, should someone want to pursue the info on offer. It makes the info, again, contemporary to the site for folk & can act to refresh people’s memories of a thing. If you’re reading what I’m posting then you know what I know & it’s nice to be aware of people out there, who are on the same journey of discovering Scotland’s history, right along with me. I never know what the next book might offer or the perspective the author might take. There could be literally anything related and that randomness is what makes it such a fascinating journey to take. Occasional site updates are made to inform folk about any changes to the site and the recent offerings both on the site, and now on YouTube, and the monthly Independence Live offerings.
Our historical education in Scotland is very much British-based, it has a very British bias. Everything has an Anglo-centric tint. But I’ll talk a wee bit about that centralising tendency in a moment. What it leads to is our learning about Henry VIII and his 6 wives, Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada, the 1666 Great Fire of London, &c. All of which was prior to the union of 1707 and therefore solely English history. What we’re not taught is who was on the Scottish throne at the same time as Henry VIII, or that the Spanish requested Scots help against Elizabeth, and that we were seriously considering it, neither are we told about the 1824 Great Fire of Edinburgh which was far more contemporary, closer to home, and as proportionally destructive. I just feel like someone has a duty to shine a light on the information that has been missing for too long within our educational institutions. I know this to be the general case from the responses my found information garners across varying platforms online. It’s really great how positive the reception of the information is and it’s definitely a big part of what keeps me going and finding out more, getting as much out there as possible with the time I have. I enjoy being able to satisfy everyone’s varying curiosities. As well as my own. The wealth and quality of information that I come across also fuels my work, as well as, again, just people’s reactions & the reception a lot of the posts get. Why would I not want to continue doing these things?
Every so often, someone will come to me, with the suggestion of a project, or maybe they just a have a query, something they’re interested in knowing more about. A good example of that was the Treaty of Union Articles which was initiated by Scottish author, David Taylor, who contacted me via Twitter (@FlikeNoir). He was curious to know whether I’d be able to source any correspondence from pro-British Union Scots who weren’t afraid to out their grievances with said union, where they felt it failed and the issues within it. Perhaps those who were openly discussing said issues and proposing ways in which it might be made the more equal union it was originally meant to be. I told him I could absolutely do that and set to work by going to the newspapers, at the British Newspaper Archive, which are literally full of opinion pieces, articles, and open correspondence, on pretty much any subject you’d care to name. I tracked down anything related to the query from Britain-wide sources between 1700 and 1900 and then whittled those down the ones that told the story of how Scotland got itself into the union and what came of it. We published the findings, 99% of which is written by Scots in favour of the British Union, who weren’t afraid to out its problems, along with Alex’s artwork (dubbed “Nippy wee cartoons” by Glasgow Herald journalist Lesley Riddoch), in 2019. I have to say, it makes for an absolutely fascinating read.
Also, the Scottish Railway Incidents which were inspired by a query from Random Scottish History patron Robert McAllister, who, while he was over collecting his copy of the Treaty of Union Articles, asked if I might be able to track down any information he had relating to the death of an ancestor on the railway down Cambuslang way. He wasn’t sure of the year, so I took a wide look beginning 5 years before to 5 years after when he thought it had been. I did finally track down what he was looking for but the huge amount of information I was coming across while looking inspired me to begin at 1900 and type up every article I could find, of any notable incident whatsoever, related to Scotland’s railways. That research is purely from the Scottish, rather than the Britain-wide, press. Volume 1 was published in 2020 and takes people from January, 1900, to December, 1903. The aim is to ultimately have a 4-volume series covering 1900-1915. The artwork for volume 2 is just about complete, meaning it’ll be published soon. All our publications are available either via the site & myself or on Amazon. I want to state here that I’m not an author, I’m a compiler of original source material for others to make use of how they’d like. Whether it’s for the purposes of aiding their own research or just as a way to wind down while reading the stories.
For the first 3 years, I tried to ensure there was something new posted to the site daily but that was a far easier prospect prior to starting the YouTube videos. These days I have to split my time between the latest book I’m uploading, research for the next IndyLive episode, and whatever series is on the go for the RSH Channel. All Videos are available at RSH.scot and Podcasting is just the newest endeavour, in a bid to get the info out there to those seeking it. The goal is to make it accessible to everyone, regardless of lifestyle & personal time restrictions. Again, the Book of Days gives me an “On This Day” round up I post to Twitter daily. It’s a publication by historian, Robert Chambers, who was one of the 19th century Scottish authors set on writing for an English audience, from a mainly English perspective. While I’ve uploaded his entire abridged Domestic Annals (1885), I have explained, in the site updates, why I’ll not be uploading the entire Book of Days, i.e., we’ve had quite enough England-specific history throughout our lives to be in need of any more. What I have done is type up & scan all the Scottish-specific information, as well as the odd extraneous article from elsewhere worldwide.
Our history is continually mirrored in the present. That was really the purpose of Mr Taylor’s request for information regarding the Treaty of Union. With the political upheavals going on within Britain at the moment; what with Westminster taking Scotland out of the European Union against the result of the Scottish electorate and the questions that’s been raising, as it seems to be only negatives with no perceptible benefits that have arisen from that unwise decision, you find in Scotland, the Scottish National Party, in Wales, Plaid Cymru, and in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein, have all increased their majorities significantly as a result, making the union a super tenuous thing just now. What was interesting to find, however, was that many of the questions people are asking, have been asked and answered before. In the news and on social media people ask questions they think are new & contemporary, ignoring the history of a thing, then I post an article from 150 years ago that discusses the exact issue. All it does is show how nothing ever really changes. That humanity has a strange need to go in circles for decades and centuries before finally being in a position to achieve resolution in some form and progress onto the next thing. It is fascinating to witness and explore, which is what I feel the Treaty of Union Articles really illuminates. So, I certainly feel as though it’s important information for those seeking to use the information in a way that allows Scotland to progress through the mire just now in a positive way. Even if it’s just to help them determine their own voting intentions no matter what it is that’s on offer.
A big issue that became apparent in the mid-19th century was that of centralisation. The first article of the Treaty of Union itself states, and makes very clear, that anything involving both Scotland and England was to be termed Britain or British, in all cases, especially within legislation and treaties enacted with other countries. There was a trend, however, amongst many of the English, and with some Anglicised Scots authorities, who took to using England and English, in place of Britain and British. That, apparently, to their minds England stood for the whole. So insidious was it, that the Rev. David MacRae had to go to the Dundee Schoolboard in order to rail against this usage within Scottish history books, published in Scotland, for Scottish schools. The examples he gives almost makes the histories unintelligible and certainly confusing. This became a very contentious issue and was constantly part of debates until the end of the 19th century when something called the “Monster Petition” was created. It was signed by just about 105,000 Scots from all walks of life and political leanings. It was a truly cross-partisan thing and was estimated to have been 1430 yards long, about 1310 metres, 4290 feet, or over ¾ of a mile. It was delivered down to Lord Balfour of Burleigh and was for the attention of Queen Victoria herself. It’ll likely still exist in some form somewhere but no-one I know was ever taught or informed of the overwhelming centralising efforts of Westminster on behalf of England, nor the steps Scots took in their attempts to prevent and put a stop to it.
If there was one book I was particularly after, it wouldn’t be just the one, it’d be Aberdeen University’s republication and translation of the Scotichronicon, initially by John of Fordun, in the 14th century, with a continuation by Walter Bower, in the 15th century. I think there are about 6 volumes. The last chapter is within the Black Book of Paisley which I was attempting to obtain when I came across Cosmo Innes’ Black Book of Taymouth (1855). Scans of which have been uploaded to RSH.scot. I have also explained in my introduction to it why I’ll not be uploading the text from this one, yet. Innes’ Sketches of Early Scotch History (1861) has been typed up and uploaded in full but he’s another Anglo-centric Scottish author.
Random Scottish History started as a hobby and personal project, though for a while now I’ve spent more of my available time on it than on anything else. No-one is paying me to do it and that wasn’t the purpose of embarking upon this journey. We do have a Patreon – Patreon.com/RandomScottishHistory – folk can subscribe to in order to receive RSH goodies and hardback copies of all the books we publish. There’s also ways folk can donate to the project, via Paypal and sites like Ko-Fi, to enable the purchase of books I can upload for the masses and help with site costs. I’ve been unable to run the website for free for quite some time now with the sheer amount of images that require to be uploaded. I feel the work I’m doing is important and that feeling is compounded with the reception it gets from people around the world. I think I’m offering a good resource to those seeking the information.
I’m also looking to republish John F. Campbell’s Gaelic Popular Tales of the West Highlands (1890-1893) which I have typed up for the site. I’ve updated the prose while maintaining the original dialogue. They were never illustrated and to that end Alex has been providing illustrations in between those for our other publications. Patrons have access to these as they’re completed. The stories are what the Disney fairytales originally were. Told as the Grimms originally told theirs. They don’t shirk from violence and delicate scenarios, so I’ll be interested to see how they come across to a modern audience. I love them. To suit myself I’ve asked Alex to also produce a series of illustrations for a gory edition of it, as I’m that way inclined, and, under the assumption there are others out there of a similar mind, I’ve made this version an available option to the top 2 tiers, Mormaers & Legends, on Patreon.
There are other contributors to the site; Alex, my husband, does the excellent site and publication illustrations in order to brighten things up a wee bit, Tam McCann has provided us with photos and information of both the central Glasgow City Necropolis, as well as the Eastern Necropolis, or Janefield Cemetery. Also, Tony ‘Lucky Dog’ Wilson, honorary patron and colleague, who is solely responsible for the RSH Theme Tune, which becomes a welcome earworm every time I hear it, his wife Kris, who reviewed the Popular Tales Gaelic for us, as well as patron, colleague, and fiddler extraordinaire, Paul Burns, who has begun to regularly provide followers of Random Scottish History with his reproductions of Old Scottish Music, the first of which was Greysteil, said to be “for certain as old as 1627, and presumed to be traditional from at least 1497.” His efforts have been a really wonderful addition to the site. Others that can be considered contributors are those who have approached me with queries that led to extended projects resulting in publications, such as David Taylor for the Treaty of Union Articles, and Robert McAllister with the Scottish Railway Incidents. Last but not least, my late friend and veritable knowledge storehouse, heraldry professor & Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Fellow, Harry Hamilton, who inspired and encouraged me to form and add to the RSH collection and archive. I owe a lot to him as do fans of the site.
Prior to the pandemic, our wee RSH team enjoyed getting out amongst folk. A good example was MardiGla 2019 when we got right in amongst it in rainbow unicorn onesies, a video made up of bits of that day is available on the site, as is the Pride in Scottish History post, researched from again the British Newspaper Archive, solely from the Scottish press, suggested by a Patron and team member who desires to remain anonymous.
I’d like to thank my Patrons, especially, and those who’ve donated to help me with costs related to everything Random Scottish History, donated books to the cause, or donated a bottles of whisky, you guys are the best of people and your encouragement means everything to me. Also, all those who give their time to follow, read a thing, or peruse the site. It’s the fact that you’re all out there that keeps me going.
Anyone interested in anything to do with Scotland and her history, gie the site a visit. Dae it!
An informal introduction to the RSH.SCOT website, and its creator, researcher, and archivist, Jenny.
Random Scottish History is just myself, Jenny, my illustrator husband, Alex, and our new team member & patron, Paul Burns.
The info on RSH.scot will always be free. If you feel the work we do is of value, please consider supporting us on Patreon or Ko-fi.
Alex’s art/my photos are also now on RedBubble.
Follow me for regular updates on Twitter.
Follow me @FlikeNoir at Mastodon.
2 thoughts on “Introduction to Random Scottish History (Podcast)”
You are a brilliant curator Jenny, really interesting to read this background to your astonishing work. Really interesting and inspiring blog and YouTube channel, thank you.