Thursday, January 25, 2007

How the Scots Invented the Modern World


While there are innumerable good reasons to have a wee dram, today is Robert Burns' birthday. And in celebrating the immortal memory of the great Scottish poet we celebrate Scotland, the Scots and the gigantic contribution that wee nation made to Canadian and world society.

US historian Arthur Herman perhaps overstates the Scottish case in his book How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It. But he makes a good case, especially in terms of the great era of nation-building in the 18th and 19th centuries when Canada and the US grew up, with Scotsmen leading the way. Duncan A. Bruce's book, The Mark of the Scots: Their Astonishing Contributions to History, Science, Democracy, Literature and the Arts makes slightly more modest claims for the Scots. Just slightly however!

The case needs to be overstated however, for despite the Scottish national image as overbearing, stingy and dour, as a national group the Scots have often been underestimated. Canada owes so much to the Scots, whether early explorers and fur traders like Alexander Mackenzie, politicians like our first prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald, inventors like Alexander Grahm Bell etc etc. Where would Canadian public libraries be without the early help from Scottish-American Andrew Carnegie? Some of these contributions to Canada are covered in the recent anthology, A Kingdom of the Mind: How the Scots Helped Make Canada, edited by Peter E. Rider and Heather McNabb [Published by McGill-Queen's University Press. McGill University - founded by Glaswegian James McGill. Queen's University - founded by Scottish Presbyterians, modelled on the University of Edinburgh!]

Of course, Canadian comic Mike Myers said it far more succinctly with his classic Saturday Night Live character of the angry Scottish shopkeeper: "If it's not Scottish, it's craaaapp!!"


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