Recovering Hidden Histories of Early America and the British Atlantic World with the Scottish Court of Session Records Digital Archive
The essay explores the Scottish Court of Session Records Digital Archive project at the University of Virginia Law Library. The Library owns 58-linear feet of Session Papers printed between 1757 and 1834, a period of dramatic change in the British Atlantic world. Traditional indexing by case name and subject has limited scholars’ ability to assess the utility of these manuscripts for non-legal scholarship. Creating a custom-built digital archive and research platform centered on these documents has the potential to generate new knowledge about Scotland, Great Britain, and its empire. The project moves beyond traditional legal categorization to emphasize the ways in which the documents in UVA’s collection reveal hidden histories of commerce, migration, and society in the years surrounding the American Revolution. Despite its seat in Edinburgh, the Court entertained legal disputes spanning vast distances. This digitization project reintegrates the spaces of the British Empire—Great Britain, North America, the Caribbean, western Africa, and India—as they would have been understood and experienced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.