10.1.1 Sources

The number and range of sources available are vast (see Chapter 2). Interdisciplinary studies are needed for this period which combine archaeological work with evidence from archival, oral history and a range of other sources discussed below. Good examples for the Highlands include some community projects (see 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 useful in 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 by Shaw (1986) summarises key non-Gaelic Highland sources for the 17th century.

Useful background works for Scotland as a whole in the post-medieval period 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 as well.

Other 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 and early 19th-century society and land in this area (Grant 1988). All have bias, with some written with preconceived notions of the primitive Highlanders, but without them researchers would be worse off (Dalglish 2002, 476ff).

Photograph of an antique map, with aged, yellow-brown paper and hand-tipped drawing. The map is titled 'Sutherlandia' in an ornate, green, gold and pink frame painted in the top left corner. The map itself shows green trees spread across the landscape, with lochs, rivers and hills outlined using orange, pink and yellow ink. To the right of the image is to ocean, showing two ships floating next to one another.
Southerlandia‘, Blaeu Atlas of Scotland 1654. ©National Library of Scotland

Estate papers are more available from the 18th century, with a few collections having earlier materials. These are scattered among 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 those by I F Grant (1961) and Alexander Fenton (1997; 1999), which provide a detailed consideration of agricultural traditions, housing and material culture. Gaelic sources are discussed below. As Dalglish (2002) noted, 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 they 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 be patrons of 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.

By the 19th century, the old courtly Gaelic tradition of Gaelic culture had largely passed but song and story were an important part of political agitation (Meek 1990), with the work of Màiri ‘Mhòr Òran (Mary MacPherson) from Skye a fine example. In the early 20th century, the Baird Bhaile or Village Bards (eg MacDhòmhnaill 2001; Bhàin 2000), composed songs and poetry for local consumption on all aspects of life and society; these 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).

Black and white photograph of a woman sitting on a chair and leaning her arm on a small table with a vase of flowers upon it. The woman is wearing a decorated headpiece and a long coat, with a fur scarf wrapped around her neck and shoulders. She is pale, and has a slight smile on her face.
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. These collections cover the chaos and national instability of the 17th century (Ó Baoill 1994), the social change and division of the 18th century (Black 2001), and the political struggles of the 19th century (Meek, 2003). In many parts of the Highland region published work by local authors of story and song exist, although less attention has focussed on the Highlands than on the Western Isles. Alongside the written resources, there is a wealth of recorded oral history from the early 20th century onwards; these recordings were 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.

Oral traditions, both Gaelic and English, 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 with, for instance, places that were part of the Jacobite uprisings, or of particular places. Borreraig on the Isle of Skye is notable for its association with the MacCrimmon dynasty of pipers.  Places may have literary associations, for instance, Neil Gunn with Dunbeath and Heights of Brae. 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 of these stories. The role that community heritage projects, including excavation, can tap into 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 locals, 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, 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 with varying academic rigour, many the product of the almost 100 active heritage societies and 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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