Thursday, 4 October 2012

The John Erskine Letterbook, 1742-45

As a postgraduate student at the University of Stirling, I applied for an annual award sponsored by the Scottish History Society. This is the ad for the SHS postgraduate award:

The Scottish History Society is delighted to announce a call for applications for its annual prize of £350 to be awarded for the best transcription with historical introduction by a postgraduate student.

The purpose of the prize is to recognise the excellent, and often unpublished, primary source discovery and transcription undertaken by postgraduate students. The competition is open to anyone registered for any postgraduate degree at any university or anyone within five years of graduation with a postgraduate qualification. Previous prize winners are not entitled to compete for the prize, but previously unsuccessful applicants are warmly encouraged to apply. Entry is not restricted to members of the Scottish History Society.

The submission should be of previously unedited primary material and should have formed part of the postgraduate research project. For example, this might be a substantial transcription, or series of transcriptions, used for a dissertation or might be an appendix from a Ph.D. thesis.

The documents submitted should be directly related to the history of Scotland and/or the Scots. The competition is not restricted to material from Scottish archives. Work submitted should not have been published by the entrant or by another.

The prize winning entry will be considered for publication in a subsequent SHS miscellany volume. Thus, by entering into the competition, the prize winner agrees to his/her entry being read by a referee who may suggest improvements for publication. Applications which are deemed to be of sufficient quality but are not awarded the prize will also be considered for publication under the same conditions. The prize winner agrees, where feasible, to attend the SHS AGM (normally in December) to be awarded with the prize. The prize winner also agrees that their success be publicised by the SHS. The winner will receive membership to the society for one year as part of their prize.

More information about the award, including how to apply, may be found here.

I didn't win the award, but the SHS contacted me about publishing my submission. Five years and three editors later, my transcription of "The John Erskine Letterbook, 1742-45" will be published in the next Miscellany of the Scottish History Society.

In my research on Erskine, I came across a letterbook that is housed in the Massachusetts Historical Society. The manuscript consists of a series of letters to various clergymen, including the Boston minister, Thomas Prince. The first letters relate to the Cambuslang and Kilsyth revivals that took place in western Scotland in 1742. Erskine witnessed both revivals and spoke about his firsthand experience at these Scottish "communion seasons." Erskine no doubt wrote to Thomas Prince with the intent that the American minister publish his accounts of the revivals in The Christian History. Prince, however, did not publish Erskine's letters, probably because the final edition of The Christian History on February 23, 1745 predated the letterbook by a few weeks.

Besides an initial letter to Prince, Erskine also addressed William and Samuel Cooper of Boston, Philip Doddridge of Northampton (England), and four divinity students at Edinburgh University. The letters are between the years 1742 and 1745, but are not separated in the manuscript (Erskine used dotted lines to partition one letter from another). The content either relates to the Scottish revivals at Cambuslang and Kilsyth or advice on the preparation of becoming a minister.

I cite some of the content of the manuscript in my book, Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine, but there is a lot of material that I left out. Anyone interested in eighteenth-century revivals should take a look at this piece.

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