Born: December 14, 1933.

Died: April 11, 2020

HISTORIANS are not always kind to ordinary people. Many chroniclers of past times focus, perhaps too often, on those noble figures who ruled nations and made nations’ rules. Alternatively, there are those scholars, influenced by Marx and his disciples, who are more interested in the grand and sweeping economic narratives underpinning society.

Dr Ian MacDougall, who has died at the age of 86, was, however, a historian with a deep affection for, curiosity in and understanding of the working men and women who are frequently overlooked when a country’s story is narrated. In nearly 30 published works he documented the beliefs, struggles and wisdom of everyday people.

Born in 1933 to a marine engineer, George, and Mary, who worked in laundries before raising her family, MacDougall was brought up in the Stenhouse district of Edinburgh. The family later moved across the city to Chesser.

A formative experience of his young life came during the Second World War, when he was evacuated to the village of Lilliesleaf in Melrose, to be looked after by a farm labourer and his wife. It was an idyllic existence involving chasing rabbits, gathering firewood and regularly hopping on a tractor to join the ploughmen in the field.

More importantly, it left him with an abiding connection with working men and women, and a realisation they played an important role in the scheme of things. He often returned to Lilliesleaf in later years. One of his more recent books,

Voices Of Lilliesleaf, recorded the recollections of older villagers, some of whom he had known as a boy.

While the pastoral life intrigued MacDougall, his early experiences of formal education were not so pleasurable. Although he was intelligent and enjoyed reading, he was a fish out of water at Boroughmuir High School. He wanted to play football. Rugby was their game. And he found the teaching of history dull.

As his older brother George was forging a career in journalism, MacDougall decided this could be a profession to his liking, and left school at 15. A hoped-for job with the Edinburgh Evening News never materialised, so he went to every other paper in the city looking for employment, and ended up at the Daily Record. He began in the circulation department, but when an office boy was called up for National Service, he grabbed the chance to join the newsroom. In time he became a reporter.

Again, this experience would inspire him to write a book published many years later. In Voices Of Scottish Journalists he interviewed various leading figures in the trade, including his brother George, who had risen to prominence with

The Scotsman.

MacDougall left the Record to do his own National Service, ending up in France, where he was stationed near Versailles, working for SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. His reporting skills were useful taking notes in shorthand and typing for military officials. He maintained his curious nature, frequently heading for Paris to haunt second-hand bookstores. He also forged friendships with local people that lasted many years.

When his National Service was completed he was restless and decided to leave journalism. In six months he passed exams allowing him to enrol at Edinburgh University, where he studied diligently and with purpose. Sandra, whom he married in 1964, studied Latin at the university. They met at a student dance.

MacDougall was not entranced by the pomp of academia. While most students secured their graduation gowns from a splendid shop on Princes Street, he opted for another store that also hired gowns, though its speciality was industrial overalls and dungarees. He chose it because it was close to the graduation hall, allowing him to return his gown immediately after the ceremony.

He initially worked as a school teacher but it left little time for the historical research he wanted to do, so he found part-time work teaching mature students while researching working-class history. Later, he became a research fellow at Strathclyde University.

He catalogued the records of important working-class organisations and activists, including trade unions and co-operatives. Much of the documentation ended up in major archives and libraries, including Glasgow’s Mitchell Library and the National Library of Scotland. He turned down an offer to lecture full-time at Strathclyde and returned to further education teaching.

He was a man who found it easy to connect with people, and his journalistic background served him well while he was researching numerous works on social history, including Voices Of Work And Home. He was the research worker of the Scottish Working People’s History Trust, and his books gave a voice to many who otherwise might have vanished without a trace, in volumes such as Hoggie’s Angels: Tattie Howkers Remembered, and Hard Work Ye Ken: Midlothian Women Farmworkers.

He obtained two honorary degrees, one from the Open University in 1984, and a second from the University

of Edinburgh in 2004. For the award ceremonies he had no qualms about wearing an academic gown and bow-tie. Other than that, he retained his modesty, lack of pretension and tireless work ethic throughout his life.

MacDougall is survived by his wife, Sandra, his brother George, his children Alan and Fiona, and two grandchildren, Liam and Ceitidh. He was predeceased by another brother, Dave.