About Mapping the Scottish Reformation

The project started in 2017 with the Project Team’s Directors Michelle D. Brock (Washington and Lee University) and Chris Langley (Newman University) exploring published resources like Hew Scott’s Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae to trace clerics across early modern and modern Scotland in their own historical research. During an initial phase of data-gathering, we became increasingly aware of the many limits of these existing printed resources and the need to return to the archival material. Soon, we began considering how digital database and mapping technologies could help scholars better access, collate, and rethink the rich information on the Scottish clergy contained in manuscript materials. From these discussions, and with the help of Washington and Lee’s Digital Humanities team, Mapping the Scottish Reformation was born.

A digital prosopography that traces the careers of two centuries of Scottish clerics, Mapping the Scottish Reformation (MSR) will be one of the largest databases of Protestant thinkers, theologians, and preachers in the world. Built with data from manuscripts held at the National Records of Scotland (NRS), this is the first project to ever comprehensively chart the growth, movement, and networks of the Scottish clergy between 1560 and 1689. For scholars and students of this era, such a resource will provide crucial framing for inquiries into religious beliefs, political conflicts, and institutional change. For those interested in family history on both sides of the Atlantic, MSR will provide unprecedented information on individuals whose outsized archival footprints make them critical figures for genealogical research.

Perhaps no event in Scottish history was as dramatic and complex as the Reformation of 1560. The many religious, social, and political changes wrought by the introduction of Protestantism would continue to be contested and reformed over the next century. At the center of these upheavals and debates stood the men tasked with shepherding the hearts, minds, and souls of the Scottish people: the clergy. Ministers served as the foot soldiers of the Protestant Reformation, but beyond this, they were also community organizers, teachers, poets, antiquarians, and historians. Nearly all work on early modern Scotland must grapple with this diverse and dynamic group. Understanding the collective lives and movements of the clergy is thus key to answering a huge range of questions about the post-Reformation era, as well as building thorough and accurate family histories.

Currently, however, there is no way for scholars or the wider public to comprehensively search for information on the Scottish clergy, or to manipulate that information if and when they find it. The available printed resourcesare incomplete and, at times, inaccurate. The voluminous ecclesiastical court records that contain the most detail about the careers of the clergy are not indexed, cumbersome to search, and completely inaccessible to the public or scholars less familiar with the challenges of Scottish handwriting. In short, currently it is very difficult, if not impossible, to gather information about ministers between 1560 and 1689 in an efficient, accurate, and comprehensive manner.

Using the records of presbyteries and synods (regional administrative bodies of the Presbyterian church), Project Directors Michelle D. Brock and Chris Langley have begun gathering data on where clerics were born, whom they married, where they were educated, and the critical movements and connections between parishes. Mapping the Scottish Reformationwill make this information fully searchable in a database and will include a graphical interface that maps clerical journeys and social networks across the country. The end product will be the first database of early modern Scottish clergy, an interactive index of the manuscript sources at NRS, and a comprehensive visual research tool to explore religious change. We hope that it will be of use not only to academics and students, but to people interested in genealogy and family history on both sides of the Atlantic.

Currently, we are seeking funding from the National Endowment from the Humanities and other American and British funding bodies to continue work on the pilot phase of the project, which concentrates on the synod of Lothian and Tweedale, a large and important area that encompasses modern-day Edinburgh.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact Michelle Brock at  brockm@wlu.edu or Chris Langley at Christopher.Langley@staff.newman.ac.uk.

Stay tuned to mappingthescottishreformation.org for more updates as the project progresses!