I believe that diverse world events are more interconnected and complex than we realize on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes those interconnections are best seen through the lens of history.
I recently read an academic article, “Women at Work: Innkeeping in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland 1790-1840” by Theresa Mackay, published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 37.2, 2017. At the moment, you can access the article here for free. (Thanks, Journal of Scottish Historical Studies!) This article won the Women’s History Scotland Leah Leneman essay prize for 2016.
In this video, you can hear Mackay talk about why she decided on this research topic and how she found and used her sources. At the end of the video, she discusses a personal tie to historical innkeeping.
Mackay used a wide range of sources to show how important women were, not only to rural innkeeping, but to the wider economy. As a woman who dislikes most “domestic” tasks, I was struck by the fact that women were preferred for innkeeping partly because it was seen as simply an extension of women’s domestic duties. Women were also believed to be a more calming influence on rowdy guests.
In truth, innkeeping required a variety of entrepreneurial and business skills. These women dealt with guests, suppliers of goods and services, and employees. They were able to react to the needs of their guests, leading them to offer new services. This led them to expand their businesses, offering horse and cart rentals, ordering goods and services from local businesses to enable those businesses to expand and hiring people to work on their farms. Because innkeeping was a cash business, they were also able to provide credit to individuals and businesses.
But this growth in the innkeeping business in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland did not happen in a vacuum. Below are some of the changes that impacted the hospitality industry during those 50 years.
- Wars on the continent made leisure travel to Europe less desirable.
- Books, such as those by Sir Walter Scott, extolled the beauty of the wild Scottish landscape.
- Advances in technology created improved transportation. This included everything from stagecoaches and steamships to new or improved roads and canals.
- There was increased leisure travel to Scotland among the gentry, but people also traveled for business and the military. There were also drovers, driving cattle to market, who needed a place to eat and rest.
So am I saying that the wars on the continent led to the rise of women running inns in Scotland? Not completely. Even with the wars, would people have traveled to the Highlands and Islands if no one was writing about how beautiful it was? If there were wars and the books, would people have even been able to get to Scotland without the improved roads?
Interconnectedness. My word for the day.