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Walter Scott and Revolution

We are thrilled to announce the launch of ‘Walter Scott and Revolution’

Red and yellow

This online exhibition marking the 250th anniversary of the author’s birth. The exhibition presents Scott in a fresh and unexpected light, challenging widespread perceptions that his best-selling novels and poems provided an escape into a romanticized past. It highlights instead how Scott’s works were a vivid and powerful response to a revolutionary age and teem with scenes of violence, terror, repression, and rebellion. 

‘Walter Scott and Revolution’ shows how Scott’s worldview was shaped by epoch-making events like the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The young Scott saw movements for political and national freedom sweep aside traditional structures and bring down age-old empires, while social unrest at home led to fears that Britain itself stood on the verge of revolution. Scott does not portray such events directly. Rather, he selects radically transformative periods in the past—the Reformation, the 17th-century Civil Wars, the Jacobite Uprisings—and uses them to comment on the upheavals of his own day.   

Engraved illustrations from Edinburgh University Library’s Corson Collection of Scott Materials have been selected to illustrate these themes. The featured images also reveal how Scott inspired revolutionary writers and thinkers abroad, where his works were read as a defence of oppressed minorities and as a plea for pluralism, religious tolerance, and freedom of expression  

‘Walter Scott and Revolution’ is Edinburgh University Library’s contribution to ‘Scott 250’, a year-long programme of events created by a partnership of cultural, educational, and tourist organizations across the world.  

The launch of ‘Walter Scott and Revolution’ also represents the launch of Edinburgh University Library’s new digital exhibition space, where all our online exhibitions, past and present, can be explored from anywhere in the world:  

Find out more on the exhibitions website. 

Paul Barnaby 

Acquisition and Scottish Literary Collections Curator