British History in the Long 18th Century
22 June 2011
Bob Harris (Worcester College, Oxford)
Scottish townscapes and ‘improvement’ in the age of enlightenment c. 1720-1820

Castle Street, Dundee (19th century)

Did the enlightenment reach provincial Scottish towns in the Georgian period?  What, if any, influence did it have on urban improvement, development and transformation of urban landscapes, particularly in the period between 1720 and 1820?  Bob Harris tells us that there was uneven change and lack of central funding for improvement projects but that nonetheless there were many changes made to the infrastructure, design and nature of Scottish towns.  Harris looks at particular to the towns that developed the most at the turn of the eighteenth century (Montrose, Dumfries, Dundee, and Perth) to examine improvements to street lighting, pavements, and houses.  However, his remit is wider with many other towns and schemes specific to them mentioned.  The eighteenth century represents a moment in time when the urban landscape was properly developing alongside enforcement in the form of police and statutes, regulation and codifying of spaces and buildings as well as tighter controls developed over what could and could not be done in an area.  To what extent this transformation was related to enlightenment thought is something that Harris tackles head-on near the end of his paper.  Were urban improvements part of an enlightenment plan or conceived off through enlightenment ideals?  Harris thinks partially, but the picture is far from clear or simple. 

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