Travels to terra incognita : the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides in early modern travellers’ accounts c. 1600 to 1800
In the early modern period, Scotland and particularly the Highlands were among the least-known regions of Europe. Their image was overshadowed by myths and stereotypes that often dated back to the late Middle Ages. Chroniclers such as Hector Boece provided Scotland with a history that dated back to the times of ancient Egypt and Greece and created an image of it as a country where miracles actually took place. This thesis examines the stereotyping of Scotland and the Scots and its reflection in the late medieval and early modern travellers’ accounts. It analyses the opening up of the country to foreign visitors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Special emphasis is put on the discovery of the Highlands and Hebrides. This region kept its distinctive Gaelic tradition and identity until far into the nineteenth century. The accounts of foreign visitors offer a unique insight into Highland life and culture and cover all aspects ranging from the social organisation of the people in clans and their different agricultural techniques to their distinctive customs and manners. In the course of the eighteenth century the Highlands underwent radical economic and social changes. This thesis analyses the restructuring of the Highland economy and its impact on Highland society. It also deals with the attempts of the various public and private bodies to halt the economic decline of the region and to prevent the people from emigrating in large numbers to North America. Special consideration is paid to the promotion of the fishing industry and the development of kelp production on the western seaboard. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century travellers’ accounts that are dealt with in this thesis are valuable sources on the social and economic history of the Highlands and Hebrides. They illustrate the discovery of this hitherto unknown region and reflect its painful integration into Great Britain. The appendix includes 120 short biographies of travellers and 115 maps showing their individual routes.