Professor Bob Harris

Featured Publication

The Scottish Town in the Age of the Enlightenment, 1740-1820 (Edinburgh Universty Press, 2014)

The Scottish Town in the Age of the Enlightenment, 1740-1820

This heavily illustrated and innovative study is founded upon personal documents, town council minutes, legal cases, inventories, travellers' tales, plans and drawings relating to some 30 Scots burghs of the Georgian period. It establishes a distinctive history for the development of Scots burghs, their living patterns and legislative controls, and shows that the Scottish urban experience was quite different from other parts of Britain. 

With population expansion, and economic and social improvement, Scots of the time experienced immense change both in terms of urban behaviour and the decay of ancient privileges and restrictions. This volume shows how the Scots Georgian burgh developed to become a powerfully controlled urban community, with disturbance deliberately designed out. 

This is a collaborative history, melding together political, social, economic, urban and architectural histories, to achieve a comprehensive perspective on the nature of the Scottish Georgian town. Not so much a history by growth and numbers, this pioneering study of Scottish urbanization explores the type of change and the quality of result.

A Tale of Three Cities: The Life and Times of Lord Daer, 1763-1794 (John Donald, 2015)

A Tale of Three Cities

Basil William Douglas, Lord Daer, was a remarkable man who left an indelible impression on those who knew him, including the poet Robert Burns and French intellectual and revolutionary the Marquis de Condorcet. Daer was a restless, energetic spirit in an era of youthful revolution. His political radicalism developed from connections made through his progressive education, his immersion in Scottish Enlightenment ideas at the University of Edinburgh under the tutelage of Dugald Stewart, and his experiences in three great cities: Edinburgh, London and Paris. This is a story about the rise of a new kind of British politics in the late 1700s, when it was mixed with a profound cosmopolitan spirit that threatened briefly and gloriously to sink national difference in the cause of universal liberty and humanity. For Daer, this moment held the tantalising possibility of creating a new union between Scotland and England, a union of the people rather than the narrow, unequal union of states created in 1707. Who was the man behind this early unionist radical vision?This book uses the life of Lord Daer to paint a fresh picture of Scottish and British political culture at the end of the eighteenth century, one which places the Union and its shifting meanings at its heart. As the Scots and the English re-think the nature of union in a very different world to that of the 1790s, Daer's political vision is one that retains its power and relevance.

  • Eighteenth-Century Scottish and British politics and culture
  • Gambling in the long eighteenth century
  • Urban history

In recent years, my main research focus has been the history of provincial Scottish towns between c.1740 and 1820.  Within this broad area, I have become very interested in changes to the townscape, including new public and private building, changes to material culture, and more widely, the impact on these towns of the Enlightenment. The other recent book writing project was a thematic biography of the aristocratic radical, Lord Daer. I first became interested in him when writing on the impact of the French Revolution on Scottish politics, but have now attempted to use his brief life as a means for exploring various aspects of later eighteenth century Scottish and British intellectual and political culture.  Daer was one of the first pupils of Dugald Stewart, a notable agricultural and urban improver, and also a thoroughly British radical. His worlds are ones which link Edinburgh, Paris and London and a great deal else besides. As part of the research for this book, I have been working most recently on Edinburgh in the 1780s, and I intend to work further on the city in the later Georgian period in coming years. My other main interest is in the social and cultural history of gambling in Britain and the British empire between c.1660-1850. I started researching this topic several years ago now, but my attention was drawn elsewhere in the intervening period. I have resumed work on it, starting with the popularity and success of the lottery in the long eighteenth century, and have written several pieces on this topic. As an aspect of this interest in gambling, I am also looking into the theme of sporting celebrity in the early nineteenth century as a means for thinking about the role of honour and codes of masculinity as crucial contexts for understanding betting practices.

  • Fantasy, speculation and the British state lottery in the eighteenth century

  • Lottery Adventuring in Britain, c.1710-1760

  • Was there a Scottish 'urban renaissance' ?

  • Scots Burghs, 'Privilege' and the Court of Session in the Eighteenth Century

  • A Tale of Three Cities: The Life and Times of Lord Daer 1763-1794

  • Scottish Town in the Age of the Enlightenment 1740-1820

  • Landowners and Urban Society in Eighteenth-Century Scotland

  • Lord Daer, radicalism, union and the Enlightenment in the 1790s

  • The Enlightenment, Towns and Urban Society in Scotland, c.1760-1820

  • Towards a British Political Economy: an Eighteenth Century Scottish Perspective

  • More

Current DPhil Students

  • Andrew Mackley
  • Jessica Davidson

I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding my research interests.

I currently teach:





Theories of the State



The Metropolitan Crucible FS

Haiti and Louisiana

Debating Social Change SS


Imperial Crisis and Reform, 1774-1784 SS