Folk in Print: Scotland's Chapbook Heritage, 1750-1850

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John Donald, 2007 - Chapbooks, Scottish - 438 pages
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There has been no book-length study of Scottish chapbooks for over a century. Though they represent a great untapped treasure-trove of history, literature and popular culture, chapbooks have been incomprehensibly and disgracefully ignored. The people's print has not so far attracted a serious modern study. In 1874 John Fraser wrote that it was impossible to understand the history of Scotland or the character of her people during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries without studying these 'vulgar, but graphic and intensely Scottish productions', which, in his opinion, could be ranked with such masterpieces as the humorous narratives in The Canterbury Tales. Though, as this selection will demonstrate, not all chapbooks were necessarily humorous. This collection aims to present a user-friendly introduction to the genre, a sampling of the attractions and possibilities, set, where appropriate, in the relevant cultural and historical contexts. The idea is to listen to the voices of the past, not often heard, which yet should be screaming for attention. The chapbooks are gloriously diverse in content, pointing to an irresistible cacophony of social discourse ranging from the flippant to the portentous, the swooningly romantic to the bluntly pejorative; they are brash and banal, fun, fresh and revealing, often reflecting the sort of flair, wit, insight, sensitivity - and mindlessness - that these days are responsible for so much of our television programming and tabloid newspaper content.

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The Chapmen
The Folk in their Condition

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About the author (2007)

Edward J. Cowan is professor of Scottish history at the University of Glasgow.

Richard J. Finlay is senior lecturer and director of the Research Centre in Scottish History at the University of Strathclyde.

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