Macintosh: published!

Mobilites of Knowledge

I am delighted to report that the first paper emerging directly from my research on William Macintosh has just been published in an excellent edited collection, Mobilities of knowledge. The book has been a rather long time coming (I submitting my chapter in 2012, I think), but has been worth the wait (not least because the book had been published on an open-access basis). The editors, Heike Jöns, Peter Meusburger, and Michael Heffernan, have brought together an interesting and diverse set of contributions that will doubtless appeal to scholars in a wide range of disciplines.

My own chapter—“Circulating seditious knowledge: the ‘daring absurdities, studied misrepresentations, and abominable falsehoods’ of William Macintosh”—examines the authorship, publication, translation, and edition history of Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The abstract follows:

The author examines the writing, editing, anonymous publication, and translation of a late-eighteenth-century text of travel and political sedition: Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (1782). Written by William Macintosh, a Scots-born Caribbean plantation owner turned political commentator, Travels was considered by contemporaries to be incendiary—precipitating British governmental action against the East India Company, inspiring revolutionary spirit in France, informing politicians in the United States during the drafting of the Constitution, and instructing natural philosophers in Germany on questions of race and civilization. The author argues that the international spatial mobility of Macintosh’s book was facilitated by geographically distinct acts of editing, translation, and reproduction. The complex publication history of Travels—across editions in English, German, and French—is used to demonstrate that Macintosh’s work was differently staged for different linguistic audiences. The author concludes by reflecting more broadly on the importance of mediation to the mobility of knowledge.

Macintosh and the Google Doodle

The Google Doodle marking the 250th birthday of Charles Macintosh.

The Google Doodle marking the 250th birthday of Charles Macintosh.

On 29 December 2016, Google marked the 250th birthday of William Macintosh’s nephew, Charles, with a Google Doodle. Charles (1766–1843) was the inventor of the fabric waterproofing process that gave rise to the eponymous Macintosh (later Mackintosh) coat.

In my research on William, Charles is significant insofar as he was the subject of a useful privately printed biography, written by his son George, that contains, as an appendix, a short account of William’s life. This account is based, in part, on family correspondence that is now lost and is particularly valuable in fleshing out William’s period of exile in Germany towards the end of his life. Had William’s nephew not found fame through his invention, it is unlikely that any of the valuable biographical detail concerning William’s life would have been recorded in this way.

In 2014 I visited Charles’s grave at Glasgow Cathedral with his descendent, Deirdre Grieve (who was kind enough to alert me to the Google Doodle).

Macintosh in Nottingham

Sunset (and moonrise) over the University of Nottingham.

Sunset (and moonrise) over the University of Nottingham.

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of giving a seminar paper on Macintosh to the Cultural and Historical Geography Research Group in the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham (and catching up, there, with many friends and colleagues). After a long term spent writing new lectures, it was nice to have the excuse to return to Macintosh and to bring in some of the new material uncovered this summer by my undergraduate research assistants.

Wednesday’s talk followed a wonderful reception the night before at 50 Albemarle Street, home of John Murray (firm and family, both). The reception was held to mark David McClay’s 10-year curatorship of the John Murray Archive (JMA). As David is stepping down from his role, the reception was a welcome opportunity for those who have been guided in their use of the JMA by David to offer thanks. Although Macintosh’s involvement with the Murray firm predated its move to Albemarle Street in 1812, it is always a pleasure to visit, so redolent is it of a literary world now gone.

John R. Murray in the drawing room of Albemarle Street, proposing thanks to David McClay.

John R. Murray in the drawing room of Albemarle Street, proposing thanks to David McClay.

A celebrated author?

Title page of Catalogue of Five Hundred Celebrated Authors of Great Britain, Now Living (1788).

Title page of Catalogue of Five Hundred Celebrated Authors of Great Britain, Now Living (1788).

Given that Macintosh and his book have, over the centuries, drifted into obscurity and are often altogether absent from historical studies of the Age of Revolution, I am always interested in contemporary sources that attest to the significance that he, and Travels, had to eighteenth-century readers. One such source is the 1788 volume Catalogue of Five Hundred Celebrated Authors of Great Britain, Now Living.

The entry for Macintosh is only short, just a single sentence, but his inclusion here nevertheless speaks to his relative importance (at least in the view of the book’s compiler, a Mr Abercrombie). Macintosh is herein described as “Author of Travels in Europe, Asia and Africa in two volumes octavo, which gave offence to some of our East Indian nabobs, and were answered by Captain Joseph Price”.

As with all such lists, of course, the inclusion or exclusion of particular individuals is an issue that arouses strong views. This was certainly true in relation to Abercrombie’s Catalogue; the book was subject to rather excoriating reviews in The Gentleman’s Magazine and The Monthly Review on this point and on the patchy biographical treatment of those listed.

Notwithstanding the apparent deficiencies of Abercrombie’s Catalogue, the fact that Macintosh was included at all is helpful in establishing his contemporary significance and celebrity.

Macintosh redux

Volume 2 of "Travels" with its new spine.

Volume 2 of “Travels” with its new spine.

Last year I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of the second volume of Travels from an Illinois-based book collector, Jeff Armstrong. The book was in pretty good shape, but the front board and free endpaper were detached from the spine and the headband and tailband were crumbling. After much deliberation, and very much in heart-over-head mood (this is an expensive business, after all), I decided to get the book repaired. The work was carried out by Otter Bookbinding, who did a splendid job (not adequately attested to in the photograph above). As far as I can tell, this is the first repair work to be carried out in this book’s 234-year history. If the book continues to hold up similarly well, the next repair shouldn’t come due before 2250.

Proofs of "Circulating seditious knowledge".

Proofs of “Circulating seditious knowledge”.

On the day I took delivery of the repaired book, I also received proofs of the long-in-press chapter on Macintosh, part of an edited collection, Mobilities of knowledge, due out in Springer’s Knowledge and space series next month. After a half-decade gestation, it will be good to see this chapter finally out, not least because the whole book will be open access. Mobilities is due to be published on 24 October.

Both the repaired book and the chapter proofs are a welcome boost following news this summer that my application to the Leverhulme Trust for research funding had been unsuccessful.

Reflections on the placement

Ophelia and Lauren engaged in transcription.

Ophelia and Lauren engaged in transcription.

For the past three weeks, I have been fortunate to have had the enthusiastic and careful assistance of Ophelia King and Lauren Muir—working as Department of Geography Placement Research Assistants—in transcribing a large quantity of Macintosh’s correspondence. All told, Team Macintosh transcribed more than 250 images of correspondence (more than half of the material I photographed in Avignon in 2012), undertook helpful primary research at the National Archives, and completed very useful name indexes for the two volumes of Macintosh’s Travels. Here, I ask Ophelia and Lauren to reflect on their experience.

What have you most enjoyed about the placement?

Lauren: I have genuinely enjoyed every aspect of this placement but the most enjoyable aspect has been continuously unravelling the journey that Macintosh embarked upon and finding out connections between many of his correspondences. To be a part of bringing Macintosh’s work ‘back to life’, so to speak, has been greatly interesting in every way and I have really enjoyed discovering how his works are so important to both modern and historical geographies.

Ophelia: Working within Team Macintosh over the past few weeks has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Both working within the office and at the National Archives has been fun and enlightening, as it has allowed me to develop an understanding about a period of history and parts of geography that I love, all while working within a wonderfully talented team. I really would love to do the past three weeks all over again!

What was the most challenging aspect?

Lauren: Aside from the horrendous handwriting of some of Macintosh’s acquaintances, which slowed the transcription process at particular times, the most challenging aspect of this placement was finding further information that confirmed the identity of an individual mentioned in one of the letters.

Ophelia: The most challenging aspect of this placement, for me, has been trying to work out and research parts of the material we could not transcribe. Due to different people having various different styles of writing it meant that even with the three of us researching one specific area we could not accurately transcribe the material. This was particularly frustrating but made the experience all the more worthwhile when the three of us could help each other to piece together the puzzle of William Macintosh’s life!

What do you think you will take away from the experience?

Lauren: The whole process has truly been one of the most interesting things I have done throughout my time at university thus far and I have definitely enjoyed furthering my academic research skills both in the office and through our trip to the National Archives. This transferable skill is one I would not have had acquired had I not been given this opportunity and it is something that will undoubtedly be useful in both further education and within my future career.

Ophelia: This placement within the department of Geography has provided me with a plethora of opportunities to develop skills which will undoubtedly prove useful throughout further education and for my future career. I am so very grateful to have been given this opportunity to work within such a fantastic team and to advance a number of transferable skills, due to work within both the office and the National Archives.

To Kew to view Macintosh

Team Macintosh at the National Archives, Kew.

Team Macintosh at the National Archives, Kew.

Team Macintosh (Lauren and Ophelia), now in the third week of their placement, have been making excellent progress in transcribing Macintosh’s correspondence from the Archives départementales de Vaucluse. So much so, in fact, that we were able to spend time today at the National Archives in Kew undertaking some original research.

The team was there to view the original copy of William Macintosh’s will and to read letters concerning a dispute between Macintosh and Richard Burke, Collector of Customs at Grenada, and brother of the more-famous Edmund.

Team Macintosh hard at work in the archive.

Team Macintosh hard at work in the archive.

Team Macintosh reflect on their first week

Team Macintosh have just begun the second week of their placement in the Department of Geography. Here, I turn the blog over to Lauren and Ophelia to offer their reflections on their first week as research assistants:

Lauren Muir

Lauren Muir

Despite thus far having only transcribed a small percentage of William Macintosh’s correspondence, Team Macintosh is undoubtedly making significant progress in revealing several interesting aspects of the late travel writer’s life and adventures.

There are, of course, many challenges in trying to read eighteenth-century handwriting. In addition to the smudges and tears that obscure many of the letters, accurate transcription depends upon having a dictionary to hand and one’s brains engaged. Existing records and transitions, and on-line resources, are searched in the hope of correctly identifying some archaic word, only to find that a random-seeming squiggle is, in fact, the name of an acquaintance of Mr Macintosh or, indeed, a very simple word! Though some words may never be deciphered, a feeling of elation occurs when, having had the entire team staring vacuously at the same apparently indecipherable script for a long time, we finally succeed in identifying a previously unreadable word or phrase.

Whilst ‘transcribing eighteenth-century handwriting’ may not ordinarily be at the top of the list of abilities to include in a CV, there are undoubtedly many other skills that have been, and will be, acquired throughout this placement; we have been provided with an invaluable opportunity in being able to develop our research skills in an academic environment in addition to furthering our analytical abilities, teamwork, and organisational skills. The communications and adventures of William Macintosh are genuinely interesting and the next two weeks of transcription will provide further pieces to slot in a fascinating puzzle that is was his life.

— Lauren

Ophelia King

Ophelia King

Having always had a keen interest in history, particularly the period since the Enlightenment, I was very excited when a research opportunity in historical geography arose within Royal Holloway’s Department of Geography, and I quickly set my sights on applying for the position. Now, working alongside an extremely conscientious classmate, Lauren, we both have the lucky opportunity to work closely with many interesting eighteenth-century letters sent to and from a surprisingly unknown Scotsman, William Macintosh.

Upon arriving on our first day, one week ago (and after having navigated a few technical difficulties with IT), we first viewed the letters which we would spend the next three weeks working on. At first glance the papers looked like a beautiful, artistic, calligraphic maze which we had to battle our way through, and, indeed, it was extremely challenging at first to comprehend all the points various individuals were trying to make. But several cups of coffee later, we finally began to master it!

Obviously, some people wrote in a clearer fashion than did others, and probably one of the most frustrating parts of this placement is the fact that if you cannot decipher a word then it will likely forever remain unknown, but that fact has only made us more driven to understand the true meaning of the correspondences between Macintosh and his acquaintances.

After only one week, this experience has allowed me to develop particular skills surrounding, but not limited to, time management and attention to detail in a formal academic research environment, whilst supplementing a key interest in history (and so contributing experience towards a related future career).

I am very grateful to work within Team Macintosh, and alongside Dr Keighren, and contribute to his research about an exceedingly interesting period of history. I am looking forward to seeing what we will discover about William Macintosh over the next two weeks.

— Ophelia

Macintosh’s reading list

Letter from Macintosh to his son, 17 July 1779. Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 85, f. 24.

Letter from Macintosh to his son, 17 July 1779. Archives départementales de Vaucluse, 2 E Titres de famille 85, f. 24.

One of the first tasks completed by Lauren and Ophelia (aka Team Macintosh) has been the full transcription of the long letter Macintosh wrote to his son (who we have since learned was adopted) from Madras in 1779, setting out a series of life lessons and providing instructions as to his education and the proper development of his character. The letter, which runs to twenty-five pages, offers a fascinating insight into Macintosh’s views on religion, law, behaviour, dress, hygiene, exercise, deportment, conversation, and almost every aspect of life.

One part of the letter stands out as being particularly interesting: that in which Macintosh provides his son with suggestions about what to read and how to take notes from that reading. Macintosh’s was, clearly, a disciplined approached; he advised his son to “apportion stated times to reading, & be sure never to deviate from them; unless by dint of necessity”. Reading, moreover, was always to go hand-in-hand with writing, and Macintosh was no less specific in guiding his son on how to take notes as he read: “The form may be discretionary in yourself, but the author, page, time, & recital, are material; as well as your own remarks, together with queries for elucidation”.

As to the books Master Macintosh should be reading, only those “distinguished for morality, as well as for elegance of language” were to be considered (and then only with the approval of his preceptor). For Macintosh, histories and political dialogues were the most useful and instructive (“read as few novels & modern romances as possible”, he warned). Instead, Master Macintosh should

Read the Ancient Roman & Grecian Histories—The Histories of Britain, particularly by Hume & RobertsonBolingbrokes History, but not his other works—Littletons History, & Dialogues—Robertsons History of the Emperor Charles the 5th. Blackstones Commentaries—Swifts works—Chesterfields Letters—Gibbons’s rise & fall of the Roman Empire…These contain some of the richest English Language in print, & are useful & entertaining.—In the French there are many modern authors of great elegance entertainment & instruction. Telemachus by the Bishop of Cambray. The History of Cyrus—with the translations of the former by Hawkesworth, & the latter by Ramsay.—The Life of Belisarius—All the Abbe Raynals works—some of Voltaires—most of Rousseau’sMarmontels


Whilst we might reasonably infer that this bibliography reflected Macintosh’s own reading habits and history, it will be interesting to check how many of this titles are present in Macintosh’s private library in Avignon. Are these texts he himself owned, or merely those he thought his son should read?

Team Macintosh gets to work

Ophelia and Lauren engaged in transcription.

Ophelia and Lauren engaged in transcription.

The work of Team Macintosh is now officially underway!  On Monday of this week, Lauren Muir and Ophelia King began their three-week stint as Placement Research Assistants in the Department of Geography. Much of the first day was devoted to discussing the workflow process: Lauren and Ophelia each take a first pass at transcribing an image of manuscript material, before swapping over for a phase of verification. The verified transcript is then passed to me for final checking and approval.

Notwithstanding the challenges of reading eighteenth-century handwriting, Lauren and Ophelia have already made great inroads into the correspondence relating to Macintosh’s time in India in the late 1770s and early 1780s. One of Macintosh’s principal correspondents during this time was the Madras civil servant Thomas Lewin (1753–1843), whose gossipy, occasionally poetic letters offer much interest and insight. The portrait below (sold at auction in 2014) shows Lewin at age 30.

Enamel portrait of Thomas Lewin by Johann Heinrich Hurter, 1783.

Enamel portrait of Thomas Lewin by Johann Heinrich Hurter, 1783.