MacDonald, Alan


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Personal profile


I am an early modern Scottish historian, with a particular interest in the period between c.1550 and c.1650. I studied at Edinburgh and worked at St Andrews before joining the University of Dundee in 2000.

My teaching looks at early modern Scotland in a British and European context. My current modules are: 'Reading Seventeenth-Century Scotland', a Level 3 module focusing on original sources and their interpretation; and ‘Scotland in the Age of Mary Queen of Scots’, a Level 5 module on a period when Scotland received more international attention than at any other time before or since.

My current research interests concern agriculture, with a particular focus on the system of teinding (known in England as tithing), the system of taking one tenth of crops as a tax to pay the clergy; I also retain an active interest in the history of government, especially the interactions between the localities and the centre. I am also interested in environmental history and the history of everyday life. I could supervise postgraduate research degrees on most aspects of early modern Scottish history.



My research concentrates on the social and political history of early modern Scotland, with particular focuses on agriculture and parliament. I have also worked on ecclesiastical and environmental history and maintain an active interest in both.

The principal focus of my research is a collaborative research project on Agriculture and Teind Reform in Early Modern Scotland, funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. In its exploration of attempts to reform the valuation and collection of teinds (a tax of one tenth of agricultural produce to support the church), the project encompasses politics, government, social and economic and even environmental history. The main aims of the project are to trace the making of policy, the implementation of that policy and its impact in the localities, and the relationship of that process to agricultural change. This has already begun to produce insights into the development of agriculture in the early seventeenth century, previously regarded as post-1660 developments.

My work on parliamentary history builds upon a major study (published in 2007) of urban Scotland’s relationship with parliament, shifting the emphasis to the rural setting, examining the role, development and significance of the other elected part of parliament, the shire commissioners. Although not created until 1587, the shire commissioners quickly became a key element of the parliamentary setup, playing a prominent role in the political upheavals of the seventeenth century.

Postgraduate supervision

  • Religion and society in early modern Scotland
  • The Scottish parliament before 1707
  • Scottish political history c.1500-c.1650
  • Early modern Scottish urban history
  • Environmental history

AHRC funded studentships are available in my research area - more details

Research problems

When did commercial estate management develop in Scotland?

How did the localities interact with the centre?

To what degree were lairds politically dependent on peers?

Was there a Scottish ‘shire community’?

(Why) Did the royal burghs decline after 1660?

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, University of Edinburgh

Master of Arts, University of Edinburgh


  • DAW Central Europe
  • Early Modern
  • parliament
  • environment
  • urban
  • Scotland

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parliament Social Sciences
seventeenth century Social Sciences
petition Social Sciences
evidence Social Sciences
election Social Sciences
voting Social Sciences
Scotland Arts & Humanities
climate Social Sciences

Projects 2015 2018

Research Output 1994 2019

Allen, Building Early Modern Edinburgh: A Social History of Craftwork and Incorporation

MacDonald, A., Oct 2019, In : Scottish Historical Review. 98, 2, p. 309-311 3 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article review

national assembly
88 Downloads (Pure)

Consultation, Counsel, and the ‘early Stuart period’ in Scotland

MacDonald, A., 1 Dec 2016, The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286-1707. Rose, J. (ed.). Oxford: British Academy, (Proceedings of the British Academy).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

Open Access
2 Citations (Scopus)
113 Downloads (Pure)

Scottish Shire Elections: Preliminary Findings in Sheriff Court Books

MacDonald, A., 5 Oct 2015, In : Parliamentary History. 34, 3, p. 279-294 16 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
political history
seventeenth century

Records of the Convention of Royal Burghs, 1555: 1631-1648

MacDonald, A. R. (ed.) & Verschuur, M., 2013, Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer. 264 p. (Scottish History Society Sixth Series; vol. 3)

Research output: Book/ReportScholarly edition

Activities 2013 2016

  • 3 Participation in conference
  • 3 Participation in workshop, seminar, course
  • 3 Invited talk

The Rhetoric of Representation: Scottish Parliamentary Commissions 1638-41

Alan R. MacDonald (Speaker)
13 Dec 2016

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk

The Rhetoric of Representation: Scottish Parliamentary Commissions 1638-1641

Alan R. MacDonald (Speaker)
25 Feb 2016

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk

Making Constitutions, Building Parliaments

Alan R. MacDonald (Chair)
3 Jul 2015

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

Making Constitutions, Building Parliaments

Alan R. MacDonald (Speaker)
1 Jul 2015

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

Anglo-Scottish Migration and the Making of Great Britain

Alan R. MacDonald (Participant)
5 Jun 2014

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course


'Now of little significancy'? The Convention of the Royal Burghs of Scotland, 1651-1688

Author: Toller, J., 2010

Supervisor: MacDonald, A. (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Vanished comforts: locating roles of domestic furnishings in Scotland 1500-1650

Author: Pearce, M., 2016

Supervisor: MacDonald, A. (Supervisor) & Jackson, S. (External person) (Supervisor)

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy