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Scottish historian Tom Devine delivers Keynote at British Scholar Conference

Devine's provocative Keynote Address was entitled “Did Slavery Make Scotland Great?” He is the Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Paleography, director of the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies, and Head of School at the University of Edinburgh.

Posted: April 24, 2010
Prof. Tom Devine, University of Edinburgh

Prof. Tom Devine, University of Edinburgh

The address served as the centerpiece of the third British Scholar Annual Conference that took place at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin on March 25-27. (Watch keynote address.) The lecture provided attendees with a sneak peek into Devine’s forthcoming monograph, where he argues that slavery played a major role in the rapid economic advancement of Scotland in the eighteenth century.

For example, Devine argued that slave plantations owned and run by Scots in the New World provided the funds for the building of much of Glasgow. Devine’s lecture stirred great debate for the rest of the conference on the importance of slavery to the growth of Scotland specifically and the British Empire in general.

Overall, the conference attracted 74 panelists from seven different countries on four continents and well over 100 attendees. The panelists delivered papers on the ways in which Britain has interacted with the wider world from 1688 to the present.

Prof. Frank Turner, the John Hay Whitney Professor of History and the director of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, provided the conference's Opening Lecture entitled “Religious Paths to Unbelief in the Nineteenth Century.” His lecture sought to challenge the assumption that the loss of traditional religious faith in the nineteenth-century transatlantic world was due to the rise of critical historical thought, science, and secularization.

Conference organizer Bryan Glass with Prof. Frank Turner from Yale University

Bryan Glass, conference organizer and UT doctoral candidate, and Prof. Frank Turner of Yale University, who gave the Opening Lecture

By exploring the religious sources of this phenomenon of loss of faith, Turner argued that ideas and developments within the religious world were as or more important than secular factors in explaining this change in intellectual outlook.

Following the Keynote Address on Friday afternoon, the discussion continued at the British Scholar Annual Conference Dinner Party. After a day of excellent paper presentations, scholars let their hair down and enjoyed the fine Texas spring weather.

This year’s southwestern menu included Texas BBQ as well as interior Mexican cuisine. Additionally, a seven-piece Mariachi band was on hand to entertain the participants. While the camaraderie and networking fostered by the conference continued on at the Dinner Party, it was only part of the story.

The event also served as the backdrop for a major announcement. Beginning in March 2011, the British Scholar Journal will be published by Edinburgh University Press and renamed Britain and the World: Historical Journal of the British Scholar Society.  

 While the name changes, the journal will continue to be dedicated to investigating Britain’s interactions with the wider world from 1688 to the present. This announcement was met with a great deal of enthusiasm from the conference participants, many of whom expressed interest in convincing their respective institutions to subscribe to the journal.

As the conference drew to a close on March 27, the inaugural Wm. Roger Louis Prize, funded by an anonymous donor, was presented for the best paper delivered over the course of the three days. The winner of the prize was Chris Dudley, a doctoral candidate from the University of Chicago.

Professors Tony Hopkins of the UT History Dept. with Tom Devine from University of Edinburgh

Prof. A.G. (Tony) Hopkins of the UT History Department and Prof. Tom Devine of the University of Edinburgh who delivered the Keynote Address

Dudley's paper was entitled “The Decline of Religion in British Politics, 1710-1730” and will be published in the Sept. 2010 issue of the British Scholar Journal. In addition, he received $1,000 as part of the award. The Wm. Roger Louis Prize will be an annual occurrence at future British Scholar Conferences.

Finally, plans for the 2011 British Scholar Annual Conference are well underway. It will take place from March 31 to April 2 at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.

The History Department’s very own Prof. A.G. Hopkins, who holds the Walter Prescott Webb Chair of History, will give the Keynote Address in what is sure to be another international gathering of scholars dedicated to studying the historical interactions of Britain and the world.

British Scholar Conference panel

Conference panel at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

The 2010 British Scholar Annual Conference was made possible by generous donations from the following organizations: British Studies Program; Department of English; Department of History; Edinburgh University Press; Ethnic and Third World Literatures, English Department; Gale-Cengage Publishing; Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center; Institute for Historical Studies; Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs; McCombs School of Business; Middle Eastern Studies; Palgrave Macmillan; and Piatra Inc.

In addition to the conference and the journal, The British Scholar Society will be publishing a forthcoming book series with Palgrave Macmillan and maintains a website that includes interviews with senior historians, book reviews, and information about the society and its meetings.

The British Scholar Society, while being international in governance, scope, and membership, has a core component at The University of Texas that help administer the journal and organize the conference. If you would like to learn more about any aspect of The British Scholar Society please visit the website at www.britishscholar.org or send an e-mail to editor@britishscholar.org.

By Bryan S. Glass, doctoral candidate in the UT History Dept.

Related Links:
Prof. Thomas Martin Devine
Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies
Prof. Frank Turner
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University
The British Scholar Society

British Scholar Annual Conference 2010 Keynote Address

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'Did Slavery Make Scotland Great?'

T.M. Devine, PhD
University of Edinburgh

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