“This was no dry and dusty seminar, but a breezy and accessible chat about the influence of Scotland’s culture and history on how it sees itself and its place in the UK (or out of it) and the wider world.”
If, like me, you haven’t been to the Edinburgh Book Festival since those far off days of 2019, you’ll notice that Charlotte Square is looking uncharacteristically deserted this Summer. That’s because the world’s biggest public celebration of the written word has decamped and moved to a new base at the Edinburgh College of Art in Lauriston Place. Whilst many will miss the horticultural charm of Charlotte Square, this new venue retains much of that bucolic vibe, with plenty of outdoor green space – but, importantly, that’s coupled with plentiful indoor lecture theatre space which (I think) is an improvement on the marquees and tents of yesteryear.
The first event I attended was the launch of Scotland: the Global History, 1603 to the Present, the latest publication by Prof. Murray Pittock, probably Scottish academia’s leading cultural commentator, who has held a number of high-profile appointments as well as authoring several key texts on Scottish history, identity, and literature. This latest work carries readers from Scotland’s involvement in the Thirty Years’ War to the 2016 EU referendum. A sizeable audience gathered in the grand surroundings of the Bailie Gifford Sculpture Court for the event, which took the form of an interview chaired by the broadcaster and journalist Ruth Wishart.
These two figures, both well-known in Scots literary circles, made an excellent duo, seeing to it that this was no dry and dusty seminar, but a breezy and accessible chat about the influence of Scotland’s culture and history on how it sees itself and its place in the UK (or out of it) and the wider world. Always a nation that’s punched above its weight, the nation’s disproportionately high-profile role in a number of spheres was discussed: the Enlightenment, the British Empire, science, and literature. To keep the tone light-hearted, there was even some teasing about the rival fortunes of Dundee United and Aberdeen FC. After 45 minutes, there was a quarter hour of questions from both the live and the online audience, many of which touched upon Scotland’s lively political scene. In case there is any doubt about the current significance of the ideas being discussed this talk, the following day the leader column in the Scottish edition of The Times newspaper used the occasion as the basis for a discussion on conflicting ideas of what it is to be Scottish or British in the current nationalist debate.
The book festival runs until 29th August, with numerous authors appearing live for lectures, talks, and book-signings. All related works, along with a huge selection of great Scottish literature, are for sale in the excellent on-site bookshop. So come for the fascinating talks; stay for a coffee and a slice of cake in the superb café; leave with a book signed by your favourite author. Get your coats on and go see this!