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Alasdair MacGilleMhìcheil agus Cultar Dùthchasach

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Translated title of the contributionAlexander Carmichael and Material Culture
Original languageGaelic
Title of host publicationDualchas agus an Àrainneachd
EditorsRichard Cox
Place of PublicationBridge of Turk
PublisherClann Tuirc
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 2009


An exploratory review of the collecting and recording practices of the folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) regarding material culture and the environment, especially during the years he spent as an exciseman in the Outer Hebrides between 1864 and 1882. The paper begins with a brief overview of nineteenth-century antiquarian scholarship in Scotland, before offering a representative selection of hitherto unpublished observations by Carmichael concerning the material culture and natural world of the islands. I continue by examining Carmichael’s correspondence with the Admiralty surveyor Captain Frederick Thomas, a figure crucial in encouraging him in his antiquarian endeavours during the 1870s. The paper investigates examples from oral tradition concerning various historical buildings in the islands, how some ruins had been deliberately destroyed within living memory, while others had been subject to locally-inspired programmes of conservation and restoration. Finally, the Barra Cross, an archaeological find now in the National Museums of Scotland, is examined from the perspective of the urban experts, into whose hands the item was eventually despatched; of the Carmichaels themselves, who felt that their contribution to the stone’s ‘discovery’ and elucidation had been slighted; and of a representative of the island family whose gravestone it had been for several generations. The paper concludes by stressing the historical complexity of the material environment in the Hebrides, constantly being recreated, and reimagined, with every passing generation.

ID: 1735069