Lost in the Backwoods

Scots and the North American Wilderness

Jenni Calder

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How the American wilderness shaped Scottish experience, imagination and identity

How is the Scottish imagination shaped by its émigré experience with wilderness and the extreme? Drawing on journals, emigrant guides, memoirs, letters, poetry and fiction, this book examines patterns of survival, defeat, adaptation and response in North America's harshest landscapes. Most Scots who crossed the Atlantic in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries encountered the practical, moral and cultural challenges of the wilderness, with its many tensions and contradictions. Jenni Calder explores the effect of these experiences on the Scots imagination. Associated with displacement and disappearance, the 'wilderness' was also a source of adventure and redemption, of exploitation and spiritual regeneration, of freedom and restriction. An arena of greed, cruelty and cannibalism, of courage, generosity and mutual understanding, it brought out the best and the worst of humanity. Did the Scots who emigrated exchange one extreme for another, or did they discover a new idea of identity, freedom and landscape?

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This book … does little more than sketch out the boundaries of a new field of academic endeavour … future generations will no doubt reap the benefits.
Roger Cox, The Scotsman
James Hunter, Emeritus Professor of History, UHI
Jenni Calder worked in Scotland with the National Museum of Scotland from 1978 to 2001 (including Head of Publications and script co-ordinator for the Museum of Scotland exhibitions), since when she has worked as a freelance writer and lecturer. She is a well-known author of many books on Scottish literature and history, including: Stevenson and Victorian Scotland (EUP 1980); The Robert Louis Stevenson Companion (Harris 1980); The Wealth of a Nation (NMS 1989); No Ordinary Journey: John Rae, Arctic Explorer (NMS 1993); Scots in the USA (Luath Press 2006). She has authored and edited many other collections on Scottish literature and history.

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