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Debating the Highland Clearances

Eric Richards

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Storm clouds always gather over the story of the Highland Clearances. The eviction of the Highlanders from the glens and straths of the Highlands and Islands of the north of Scotland still causes great historical dispute more than a century after the events. The Highland Clearances also generated a great deal of contemporary controversy and documentation. The record comes in diverse forms and with radically different provenances, offering excellent material for exercises in historical analysis and selection.

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Table of Contents
How to use this book
Part One: Debates
Chapter One: Debating the Highland Clearances
I Leaving the Highlands
II Definitions
III The Original Controversy
IV Contemporary Reactions
V The Modern Debate
VI Responsibility
Chapter Two: Before the Clearances
I The Benchmark Problem
II Conditions of Life
III Security and Food Supplies
IV Population before the Clearances
V Change before the Clearances
VI Emigration Before the Clearances
VII Mobility and Capital Flows.
Chapter Three: The Age of the Clearances
I Harris, Arichonan and the Uses of Eviction
II The New Sheep
III The Timetable of Clearance
IVYears of Pessimism
V Landlord Power, Landlord Weakness
VI Perceptions, Contemporary and Retrospective
Chapter Four: Protest and Resistance During the Clearances
I The Passive Highlanders
II The Common Pattern
III Three Exceptions
IV A disgruntled and pious people
V Resistance in Perspective
Chapter Five: The Blame Game
I Reputations and Decline
II Indictments and Good Intentions
III Responsibility for Famine and Decline
IV The Dislocated Society

Part Two: Documents

Guide to further Reading
Works Cited
Essay questions and projects
Brief Guide to places, museums, libraries, galleries, websites.
Statistical tables

About the Author

Eric Richards is Professor of History at Flinders University and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. His books include The Highland Clearances: People, Landlords and Rural Turmoil (Edinburgh University Press 2000); Patrick Sellar and the Highland Clearances, (Edinburgh University Press, 1999) (Scottish History Book of the Year); The Last Scottish Food Riots (Oxford University Press, 1982); and The Leviathan of Wealth. The Sutherland fortune in the Industrial Revolution (University of Toronto Press, 1973).


Although this book is of course focused on the clearances, it could make essential reading for any student or practitioner of history in how to write on a controversial topic.
- Annie Tindley, History Scotland
Richards challenges his readers to understand a historical phenomenon and wrestle with analysis of primary and secondary sources through two complementary sections… fills the gap where an analytical overview has been sorely needed. He offers no easy resolutions but encourages readers to wrestle with the very mixed motives, events and outcomes termed 'Highland Clearances' as well as with the dichotomised rhetoric which has characterised debate.
- Elizabeth Ritchie, University of Guelph, Scottish Historical Review
It is in this sense above all that the Highland Clearances are, as Eric Richards comments in his new book, 'a classic historical problem'. Because the issues at stake in the clearances were so basic to the formation of modern society, and because the economic and other forces then in conflict remain in conflict today in some of our planet's most crisis-ridden localities, there is not, and cannot be, anything approximating to a definitive verdict on the clearances. Debate, in other words, will continue. But if such debate is to yield more than endless contention, it needs to be well informed. Hence this book's value.
- James Hunter, UHI Centre for History, Scottish Historical Review
Graham examines the tensions and uncertainties of 1690s Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, and how they led up to what for him amounts to a ritual sacrifice. In doing so, he sets himself the task of reconstructing the mindset of a community-no easy goal, but one which he accomplishes in availing himself of spiritual diaries, private correspondence, newspapers, parliamentary and church records, and pamphlets, among other valuable primary sources… This timely volume does not shy away from modern implications of the Aikenhead case. Graham has offered us not only a fine addition to the literature on seventeenth-century Scotland, but a portrait of contemporary life all the more vivid due to its relevance to debates we face over three centuries later.
- Nathan P. Gray, University of Glasgow, Kelvingrove Review