Exhibition on Scotland's achievements

New exhibition celebrates Scotland's contribution to the world

Rules drawn up almost 300 years ago for the world's first ever overdraft are among the highlights of a new exhibition at the National Library of Scotland that celebrates what Scotland has given the world.

The 18th century document gave birth to a banking practice that has been copied around the globe and continues today to help millions of people manage their money. 'Wha's like us? : A nation of dreams and ideas' presents a selection of outstanding achievements by Scots and Scotland. Some, such as the development of the steam engine, the telephone and television will be familiar to many, but others are less well known. All are worth remembering and celebrating.

Few people may be aware that the common overdraft can be traced back to 1728. It was then that an Edinburgh merchant William Hog approached the Royal Bank of Scotland with a problem.

He had a thriving business but payments from his customers did not always come in on time to allow him to pay his bills. The bank agreed to let his account to go into the red for a few days as they knew money would soon paid in. The overdraft was born and the world of banking was changed forever.

The philosopher David Hume described the system of cash credit as 'one of the most ingenious ideas that has been executed in commerce'. The rules controlling how overdrafts were to function were drawn up by the Royal Bank the following year and can be seen in the exhibition.

This is just one of some 80 different Scottish ideas or inventions in the exhibition that made an impact on the world. They range from the bagpipe to the encyclopaedia, anaesthetics to urban planning, the best seller to workers' rights and much, much more.

They appear as an A to Z of achievement taking in the arts, science, economics, politics, sport, design and food. Serious topics such as mathematics and philosophy appear alongside lighter items including red hair and Scotland's contribution to the world of biscuits. Matters are brought right up to date with the inclusion of the global gaming phenomenon 'Grand Theft Auto' which originated in Dundee.

Manuscripts Curator Maria Castrillo, who put the exhibition together with fellow Curator Andrew Martin, said: 'Many of the successes shown in the exhibition still impact on how we live today. The telephone and television are the obvious examples but there are many others. Our lives have been shaped by these developments and it is a privilege to reflect on Scotland as a successful nation of dreams and ideas.

'I hope people who visit the exhibition will have their curiosity aroused , not just about what Scotland has given to the world but what we have in the Library. People may be surprised to see the wide range of things we collect.'

The task of choosing just 80 items to reflect Scotland's contribution to the world was far from easy says Andrew Martin. 'We couldn't aim to be comprehensive and what we have here is often a personal selection of material. It is by no means the definitive account of Scotland's contribution to the world, but it is wide ranging and we hope entertaining. It is a mixture of familiar stories and items, along with some that may surprise a few people.'

The exhibition is being staged as part of the Scottish Government's Year of Homecoming which seeks to attract tourism and investment by showcasing the very best of Scotland. 'Wha's like us? : A nation of dreams and ideas' runs from 13 December to 18 May at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.

Ideas that Scotland has given to the world

  • Bank of England
    It was a Scot, William Paterson, who conceived and proposed the idea of establishing the Bank of England. In 1691, he published a document called 'A brief account of the intended Bank of England'. The idea was adopted three years later by Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax, and the bank brought into existence
  • Canals
    Although canals date back to Roman times, the Scots engineer Thomas Telford revolutionised their design in the late 18th century. His projects included the Ellesmere and Shrewsbury canals, as well as the Caledonian canal
  • Cloning — Dolly the sheep
    The world's first cloned mammal was created in 1996 by a team of experts at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh. It was a world first and a major boost to Scotland's scientific standing. Dolly survived for six years, before she died from a lung disease
  • Decimal point
    The 16th-century Scottish mathematician and inventor John Napier's was responsible for advancing the notion of the decimal fraction by introducing the use of the decimal point. He also introduced the concept of logarithms in mathematical calculation which he described in 1614 in his book called 'A description of the wonderful canon of logarithms'
  • Golf
    The modern game of golf is generally considered to be a Scottish invention. The first written record dates back to 1457, when James II banned it as an unwelcome distraction from learning archery. NLS holds the first written rules of golf from 1744
  • Penicillin
    The discovery of penicillin — the first ever antibiotic — by Ayrshire-born Alexander Fleming was one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the 20th century. His discovery of a mould growing in one of his culture dishes that killed the surrounding bacteria has saved millions of lives around the world
  • Sherlock Holmes
    The fictional detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first appeared in print in 1887. The fascination with his powers of deduction has remained constant since then. He is the world's 'most portrayed movie character', according to Guinness World Records

12 December 2013

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