10.1.1 Sources

The number and range of sources available are vast (see Chapter 2), requiring interdisciplinary studies. Good examples for the Highlands include some community projects (see eg Marshall 2011b; 2013; Vawdrey nd) and development-led work by Steven Birch though too often there is little crossover between disciplines, or a tendency at times to see archaeology as only corroborating historical research (Dalglish 2002; Bezant and Grant 2016). Some of the sources are discussed in Chapter 2 and others will be highlighted in the discussion below. Most of course relate to the later Post-Medieval period, but a useful article summarises key non-Gaelic Highland sources for the 17th century (Shaw 1986).

Useful background works for Scotland as a whole include The History of Everyday Life in Scotland series which provides a useful overview of evidence from documentary sources and material culture (Foyster and Whatley 2010; Morton and Griffiths 2010; Abrams and Brown 2010). The 14 volume Compendium of Scottish Ethnology published by Scottish Life and Society addresses various thematic issues.

Evidence consists of maps, available from the beginning of the period (see eg maps.nls.uk; RARFA 10.5), observations from people working in the Highlands such as government rent collector Captain Edmund Burt (1754) and Episcopalian bishop and Jacobite supporter Bishop Forbes in the second half of the 18th century (Sutherland 2008). Accounts by travellers such as Johnson and Boswell (1775), Pennant (1776), Knox (1787) or Southey (in 1819, published 1929) also provide outside perspectives (Leask 2021). Martin Martin, a native of Skye, provided an early insight into late 17th century Skye (Martin 1716). The memoirs of Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, Strathspey provide a glimpse into late 18th century/early 19th century society and land in this area (Grant 1988). All of course have bias, with some written with preconceived notions of the primitive Highlanders, but without them we would be poorer off (Dalglish 2002, 476ff).

Southerlandia‘, Blaeu Atlas of Scotland 1654. ©National Library of Scotland

Estate papers become more available from the 18th century, with a few collections with earlier materials. These are scattered amongst numerous archives and private collections. The annexed estate papers in particular are a rich source for some mid to late 18th century areas (Scottish Record Office 1973).

Studies based on collections of artefacts and oral tradition include I F Grant (1961) and Alexander Fenton (1997; 1999) providing detailed consideration of agricultural traditions, housing and material culture. Gaelic sources are discussed below. As Dalglish noted (2002), the historical context of all these sources is important, because the Highlands was not a single conservative entity.

A large number of oral history projects have been undertaken in Highland communities, but tend to be published in limited publication runs, with many recordings having no transcriptions. Together they represent valuable collections which shed light on many of the themes discussed in this chapter. Attention should be focussed on ways to collect, preserve and make available this resource.

Many Highland chiefs continued to patronise classical Gaelic culture into the 17th century and later. Gaelic culture had a well-connected and often international outlook. The first book to be printed in Gaelic in Scotland, the Book of Common Order, appeared in 1567. Printed works in Gaelic have appeared since then. Particularly important was the work of poet, minister, and Gaelic tutor to Charles Edward Stuart, Alasdair, Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, who published Aiseirigh na Seann Chànain Albannach, ‘The Resurrection of the Old Scottish Language’, a seminal work in the development of written vernacular Scots Gaelic (Dressler and Stiùbhart 2012).  A flowering of Gaelic culture in the 18th century belies the popular narrative of a language and society in decline.

In the 19th century, the old courtly Gaelic tradition of Gaelic culture had largely passed but song and story was an important part of political agitation (Meek 1990), with the work of Màiri ‘Mhòr’ MacPherson from Skye a fine example. In the early 20th century the Baird Bhaile (eg MacDhòmhnaill 2001; Dòmhnall Aonghais Bhàin 2000) or Village Bards, composed song and poetry for local consumption on all aspects of life and society that are now recognised as important works of art as well as useful insights into life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 20th century, poets such as Somhairle MacGill-Eain (Sorley MacLean) were producing work which is arguably the last of a tradition of formal Gaelic poetry that stretches back into the Medieval period (Maclean 1985; Haldane 2007), though there remain many important Gaelic poets working today (Poncarova 2020) . In the 21st century, we have recently seen the Gaelic language enter a new phase of language loss in its heartlands (Ó Giollagáin et al 2020).

Màiri Mhòr nan Oran (1821 – 98) was a nurse from Skeabost, Skye. She was a prolific song writer from the age of 50, writing songs of exile, praise and hope as well as songs of protest about the way the Gaels were treated by others. ©National Museums Scotland

Very few archaeological or historical approaches to the period have engaged with evidence from Gaelic culture (discussed in Grant 2014). Several collections of literature with English translation and useful notes are readily available for study, which cover the chaos and national instability of the 17th century (Ó Baoill 1994), the social change and division of the 18th (Black 2001), and the political struggles of the 19th (Meek, 2003). Many parts of the Highland region may also have published work by local authors of story and song from many periods, though less attention has focussed on this area than from the Western Isles. Alongside the written resource, there is a wealth of recorded oral history from the early 20th century onwards undertaken by many organisations but particularly by the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, who have a vast archive. A large collection of digitised material is freely available through Tobair an Dualchais/Kist of Riches – http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/ .

Oral traditions, Gaelic and English, both recorded and still circulating, also enable access to place-associations and the intangible heritage of folklore, customs beliefs and traditions. Highland folk-belief placed significant emphasis on other or supernatural worlds and the connections between such worlds and the here and now. Sometimes places have particular associations. The second sight was of particular importance to Highland folk-belief and a number of places are associated with predictions of the Brahan Seer. There are also historical associations of, for instance, places with the Jacobite uprisings, or of particular places, for instance, Borreraig on the Isle of Skye which is notable for its association with the MacCrimmon dynasty of pipers.  Places may have literary associations, for instance, Neil Gunn and Dunbeath. Many such associations are, by their nature, complex: they are often in the process of being rediscovered, reworked or re-invented. At the same time, new associations or traditions are in the process of being made.

Folk memories also provide insights into the way communities perceive their past, and indeed how they rework elements. The role that community heritage projects, including excavation, can tap this issue was highlighted in work at Hilton of Cadboll, Easter Ross, where excavation of a Pictish stone took place. Visitors to the site, especially local, discussed not so much the Pictish past, but saw it related to a view of the clearances, and led to discussion of class, landownership, land reform, environment and government – and the way the community viewed its archaeological remains (Jones 2012; Case Study Hilton of Cadboll Pictish Cross Slab).

A large number of studies of individual communities and areas have been published of varying academic rigour, many the product of the almost 100 active heritage societies or 50 museums and archives in the Highlands. Some are privately published, others in limited editions, and it would be useful to have a listing.

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