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Digitising the hidden voices of Scotland's legal past
Join History Scotland for an exclusive talk by Dr Jim Ambuske on how a transatlantic team of scholars are unlocking Scotland’s Session Papers, until now a largely untapped resource.

Using the intriguing saga of the Duguid family as a case study, Jim will illustrate how a transatlantic team of researchers, digital humanists, and archivists based in Virginia and Edinburgh are creating new ways to unlock Session Papers for scholars and the public.

The Duguid family’s saga is but one of the thousands of untold stories found in Session Papers, the printed documents submitted to Scotland’s Court of Session as part of the litigation process. In 1710, the court mandated that all documents submitted to it be printed to eliminate the tedious and error-prone task of copying petitions, memorials, and evidence by hand. The change revolutionized the court’s work, allowing for multiple copies of a single document to be had by members of Scotland’s legal community, and led to the creation of a vast archive now spread across libraries in Great Britain and North America.

Yet, few researchers can access them. Bound into thick volumes and often riddled with contemporary notes, Session Papers are effectively hidden from researchers because they remain largely uncatalogued and undigitized.

By developing new digital tools to read and catalogue these documents, and building interpretive frameworks like The Scottish Court of Session Digital Archive Project (SCOS) that allow researchers to engage with them in meaningful ways, the research team hope to shed light on voices buried within them that have much to tell us about the history of Scotland and the Atlantic world in a revolutionary age.

Jan 12, 2022 06:30 PM in London

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Dr Jim Ambuske
Jim Ambuske, Ph.D., leads the Center for Digital History at the Fred W. Smith National Library for George Washington at Mount Vernon. A historian of the American Revolution, Scotland, and the British Atlantic World, Ambuske graduated from the University of Virginia in 2016. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA Law, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project. He is currently at work on a book about emigration from Scotland in the era of the American Revolution.