Exactly four years ago, I posted the first entry on this blog: a discussion of William Macintosh’s will. I had a vague suspicion at that point that I was embarking on a long-term project—that the task of recovering Macintosh from the archive would be neither quick nor straightforward. In the intervening years, the “Macintosh project” (as family and colleagues have come to call it) has expanded and become more complex; each discovery leads to new questions and reveals new connections. In some respects, I have spent four years simply trying to define the scope and boundaries of the project, to get some sense of where Macintosh’s influence and significance ended. Part of what has made it difficult to constrain the project’s scope is Macintosh’s mobility—he had after all, as he put it in a letter to George Washington, travelled “over most parts of our Terrestrial Globe”—and his deep involvement with key political debates and the workings of “Legislature, Finance, Colonization, &…Commerce” in a variety of national contexts. Simply put, Macintosh was everywhere, geographically and intellectually, during the last quarter of the eighteenth century; one simply has to scratch the surface to reveal his presence and influence.
At the same time as I have been sketching the limits of the project, I have been attempting to secure funding to support the international archival research that the project—in its full extent—will require. An AHRC Standard Grant application in 2014 met with very supportive reviews and a Grade 5 score (“A proposal that is internationally excellent in all of the following: scholarship, originality, quality, and significance” &c., &c.), but missed out on funding. A Major Grant application to the Bibliographical Society in 2015 met with a similar fate. I am now working up an application to the Leverhulme Trust for a Research Project Grant that I hope will prove that third time’s a charm, but, as all academic researchers are aware, funding is always something of a lottery.
In many respects I am grateful for the project’s extended gestation—it has allowed me to place Macintosh and his work in a much larger context and to become more sure of the significant role he and his book played across three continents. Perhaps more importantly, I find myself just as curious as ever about Macintosh and eager to complete the empirical work that will lay the foundation to the planned monograph, The forgotten radical: William Macintosh and the transnational circulation of seditious print in the Age of Revolution. That said, I do hope that four years from now, I will be a little closer to completion than I am now.
I was fortunate last week to give a seminar paper on Macintosh to the Human Geography Research Group at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences. Despite being scheduled against the AAG conference in San Francisco, I was lucky enough to have a large and engaged audience who asked some great questions. It was a nice opportunity to take stock of where I stand now and where the next four years will take the project (notwithstanding the incessant tick of the REF2020 clock).