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Digital Subscriptions > History Scotland > Nov - Dec 2019 > FINAL WORD


Historian, writer and broadcaster James Crawford talks to History Scotland about his new role as 2019-20 ambassador for the Explore Your Archive campaign

When was the first time in your career that you made substantial use of archive material?

At university I studied the history of philosophy of law – an incredibly wide-ranging topic. I wrote dissertations on subjects as diverse as the trial of the former SS chief Klaus Barbie in the 1980s, and South Africa’s ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ Commission at the end of apartheid, to the shifting nature of punishment and prisons over thousands of years. It was at this point that the archive bug bit hard. Research can be immersive and all-consuming – and often incredibly frustrating. But there is little to compare with the excitement of those moments when you finally find that elusive piece of archive material: that fragment, say, from a diary you’ve been hunting. You suddenly feel an incredibly intimate connection with the author. They may have been writing hundreds of years ago – but in an instant you are in a direct conversation with them, and with the past. Time compresses and – when you have time to reflect – you are immensely thankful for all of those archives that dedicate their existence to the preservation of the many disparate fragments of our history.

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About History Scotland

Enjoy the best research you can't read anywhere else! Highlights include: · The Declaration of Arbroath: a project that is combining documentary and genetic genealogy evidence to tell the stories of those who signed the declaration · 17th-century bandits: We trace the rise and fall of a notorious bandit gang that operated in the eastern highlands during the 1660s · The Eyemouth tragedy:how pressure to go to sea whatever the weather led to one of Scotland’s worst maritime disasters BONUS CONTENT: Glasgow University Slavery Exhibition gallery, Flora MacDonald - migrant and survivor - EXCLUSIVE Belle Jones interview