The Highlands and Islands remain one of Europe's most sparsely populated regions. As one of the last surviving "wilderness" areas, an impression may be given of barren mountains, lonely glens and deserted islands lacking any human presence or history. In reality, the opposite is the case.
For well over 5,000 years the landscape of the Highlands and Islands has been shaped by its people. The nature of their social organisation and their beliefs have moulded the history and culture of the area. The story is long and complex - a history of migration, intermarriage, settlement and assimilation, and often of conflict.
The Oral Tradition
The archaeologist's skills are needed to prise open the secrets of the early settlers but from Roman times onwards began to emerge the first scraps of written history. That, plus a rich oral tradition of story and song, provide a fuller picture of the life and times of the people from that period onwards. Over the years several folklorists have collected and recorded much of the oral tradition. The oral culture, which the Highlands and Islands are particularly noted for, is reflected in the poetry and song of the bards.
Down through the ages it was ordinary men and women who shaped Highland society. These were the people who harvested the resources of land and sea, created settlements, built communities and towns, raised families and fought wars.
In each age, however, individuals emerged whose name and memory lived on long after their death. Their names are remembered for their achievements or for the key part they played at critical moments in history. Some are remembered for the good they did, others for the ill. To this day, a few remain the subject of controversy and debate as to their role.
The Visitor's View of People and Place
Since the late 18th century, the landscape and culture of the Highlands and Islands has attracted people from outwith the area. Many kept records of their tours. These accounts provide a valuable insight into the lives of the people over the past two centuries. They also provide an insight into how the Highlands were perceived and represented to a wider world.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
Lordship to Patronage : Scotland 1603-1745
Edinburgh, EUP, 1990
Checkland, Olive and Checkland, Sydney
Industry and Ethos: Scotland 1832-1914
Edinburgh, EUP, 1989
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