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  • Enlightenment in a Smart City: Edinburgh's Civic Development, 1660–1750 by Murray Pittock
  • Tara Thomson
Enlightenment in a Smart City: Edinburgh's Civic Development, 1660–1750. By Murray Pittock. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019. ISBN 9781474416603. 296 pp. pbk. £13.99.

Murray Pittock's Enlightenment in a Smart City explores the material and social conditions particular to the city of Edinburgh that brought about Scottish Enlightenment. As Pittock notes, Scottish Enlightenment is usually periodised around the mid- to late-eighteenth century, and narratives of Enlightenment tend to focus on 'Great Men' and great ideas emerging from Scotland during that period. Claiming that less attention is paid to the 'mechanics of change' (p. 21), Pittock instead turns to the earlier period between 1660 and 1750, expertly demonstrating how Edinburgh evinced a set of conditions that would be fertile ground for the ideas, practices and values associated with Enlightenment.

Pittock's book is impressive in its breadth, drawing on extensive and varied types of historical data, and informed by several different theoretical models, including (but not limited to) contemporary theories of technology and innovation, digital cultural theory, urban theory, theories of the public sphere, and actor-network theory. These models come together productively to shed light on how Edinburgh's heterogeneous networks – of people from all strata of society, across a range of professions, formed through local and international trade and mercantilism, and materialised in the arts and cultural industries – drove innovation during this period and thus formed the conditions for Enlightenment thinking, which Pittock defines as 'the application of reason to knowledge in a context of material improvement' (p. 14). This volume does not focus, as might be expected, on the development of philosophical or economic theories, but on the city of Edinburgh itself – its complex infrastructure, unique spatial organisation, diverse population demographics, robust networks of professional associations and civic institutions, and its vibrant and innovative arts and culture industries, particularly printing. In doing so, Pittock aligns Edinburgh with other Enlightenment cities such as London, Amsterdam and Paris, while pointing to the local particularities of Edinburgh to argue that Scottish Enlightenment is a unique case, which supports a wider claim for the concept of a national Enlightenment. These particularities centre quite strongly on urban topography, infrastructure, and thus social life, foregrounding the city's density, diversity, social mixing, and outdoor public culture, driven at first by crowded tenement living and poor indoor lighting. However, Pittock's historical narrative [End Page 212] deconstructs the assumption that Edinburgh's Old Town was a place of chaotic squalor, marshalling evidence for many urban and social improvement initiatives that pre-date the New Town Proposals usually seen as the marker of Edinburgh's entry into modernity, or the Enlightenment era. In tandem with urban daily life, Edinburgh's political situation following the 1707 Union is also highlighted as a key factor in the development of Scottish Enlightenment. Pittock argues that, as the city had lost its status as a national capital, the nobility and professional classes (who, as he points out, in Scotland were often the same people) had a stronger need than in other capital cities to assert their social value. Pittock also claims the significance of the Jacobite rebellions and 'deep-seated political tensions' following the Union have been underestimated 'in the intellectual history of the Enlightenment' (p. 75), then going to considerable lengths to rectify that gap.

Throughout the book, Pittock strongly foregrounds Edinburgh's 'Europeanness' (p. 57) and the intrinsic value of its residents' cosmopolitanism. Chapter two devotes considerable space to outlining Edinburgh's extensive economic ties to European nations (particularly France and the Netherlands); reciprocal travel of Scottish and European nobility, professionals, merchants, educators and artists; and the influence of European culture and arts, particularly the Dutch. Along those lines, the book's account of social resistance to the 1707 Union foregrounds urban Scots' desire to continue 'Scotland's historic international links', questioning 'whether Scotland would not be better off becoming one of the United Provinces of the Netherlands than joining with England' (p. 72). Each subsequent chapter reinforces this narrative alongside sustained analysis of the make-up of early modern Edinburgh society, and its heterogeneous and...


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