The Highlands

Murray Pittock

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
The Highlands

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The “Highlands” is a key imagined space in British literature, art, and culture. The lasting power of the region—or rather, the image of the region—resides to a significant extent in a series of confusions over whether it is a physical, political, social, cultural, ethnic, or linguistic reality. These categories underpin the notion of a Highland “reality,” which helps to deter close questioning of the imaginary qualities of place that are much more evident in most representations of the Highlands and Highlandism. Many books on the Highlands suffer from one or more of three flaws: they are exceptionalist, regarding the Highlands as a defined space with a unique civilization that existed separately from both the rest of Scotland and Europe; they are “emplotted,” telling a narrative from a predetermined framework; or they are partial and enthusiastic in their use of evidence. There is, however, an exceptionally good body of work on Highland history and place in a broader context, and this is the approach taken in this bibliography. In the Art, Landscape, and Tourism and British Literary Culture sections, the importance of the image of the Highlands constructed by outsiders is examined; in Clearances in History, Literature, and Culture and Jacobitism, the fate of the real Highlander that accompanied the era of the romanticized Highland image is explored, and in Empire, the role of the Highlander in the British Empire is looked at. The Geography section, the various sections on History, and the Literature of the Gaelic World section enable the reader to get a sense of the nature of Highland culture in its environmental, historic, and linguistic contexts, focusing in the History sections on its place in the wider world. The Literature about the Gaelic World section shows the use made of the “Highlands” as an idea in Anglophone literature, while Music, Religion and Belief, and Tartan and Tartanry once again focus on the culture of the Highlands themselves, using wider referents when appropriate. Tartan in particular is an area where good quality critical work has been heavily outweighed by partial and enthusiastic writing, and where the student needs to tread with care. While recognizing that this is primarily a literary bibliography, even in literature what is being imagined or represented as “Highland” is often—indeed, usually—linked to a strongly historical, visual, or cultural model. The potency of the Highlands as an imagined space is very strongly derived from the impact made by the 1745 Jacobite Rising, Macpherson’s Ossian poems of the 1760s, and Enlightenment historiography and theories of the picturesque from the same era. Collectively these transformed the “Highlands” from a political and military player whose threat was known but whose culture was often unknown, to a locale which was intensely imagined as variously primitive, savage, glorious once but now in decline, supernatural and fey, romanticized while being oppressed and exploited both in real and imagined terms, as classically argued in Womack 1989 (cited under Art, Landscape, and Tourism).

Article.  7739 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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