The image of the Highland Clearances, c. 1880-1990
The Highland Clearances have featured in many historical analyses over the past thirty years and have particularly attracted the attention of socio-economic historians interested in the study of agricultural changes, their causes and multi-faceted impact on the Highland region and society. Yet it seems that the increasingly refined knowledge that the period now enjoys has hardly percolated down to the popular interpretation given of the events. The present study concerns itself with the popular representations of the Highland Clearances which, to a large extent, are consensual and are revealing of the collective attitudes towards the period, especially in the crofting districts. The first part concentrates on the historiographical background of the period since the nineteenth century, so as to establish the fund of knowledge gradually accumulated on the times, the standpoints adopted by the various historical currents and the evolution in historical methods and perspective. To convey the collective perception on the Clearances, three areas are selected: twentieth-century Scottish fiction, political writings and the museum world. Through the individual analysis of each, the themes, elements and viewpoints which have been given priority, will emerge. The popular representation of the Clearances yields as much information on the way people see their past as on current attitudes and concerns since it is, more often than not, recycled to fit a particular reading. It is also, because of its consistency and its recurrence, a mark of the significance of the period in the collective memory and sense of identity of the inhabitants of the crofting districts.