Macpherson the Historian

History Writing, Empire and Enlightenment in the Works of James Macpherson

Mairi MacPherson, Jim MacPherson

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First study of James Macpherson (1736–1796) as an historian

  • Situates Macpherson as a key figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, broadening our understanding of historiography and the relationship between history and fiction
  • Explores Macpherson’s entire corpus – literary, historical, political – to enable new research into Enlightenment disciplines, Romantic notions of conjectural history and interdisciplinary thinkers, adding to the Humanities more widely rather than just Literature or History by re-evaluating an author traditionally studied in Literature as an Enlightenment figure
  • Investigates examples of nation-building and questions of post-Union Scottish and British identity, which will change your perception of national (Scottish, British) and regional (Highland) identities in the Enlightenment and beyond
  • The story remains relevant today: Macpherson as a Scot in London, who retained close connections to his Highland home while promoting a sustained and nuanced British identity without losing sight of Scottishness in his works, reflects contemporary notions of national identity

This is the first book-length study of James Macpherson (1736–1796) that considers him as an historian. From his early poetry, to the Ossianic Collections, his prose histories, and his later political writing, Macpherson’s subject was the past and he engaged with the latest Enlightenment theories about how to write history.

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Introduction: James Macpherson, the Enlightenment and
Eighteenth-century History Writing

1 Frameworks and Genealogies: Macpherson the Historian
in Context

2 Poetry: James Macpherson’s History Writing in
The Highlander and Ossian

3 History: James Macpherson’s Narrative Prose Histories

4 Politics and Empire: James Macpherson’s Political Writings
and the Crisis of Empire in the Late 1770s

Conclusion: James Macpherson: Enlightenment Historian and
Imperial Gael


Dr Mairi MacPherson is an academic and museum expert based in the Scottish Highlands, where she has published extensively on the works of James Macpherson and, together with Jim, redesigned the Clan Macpherson Museum in Newtonmore.

Jim MacPherson is Programme Leader for MLitt British Studies, Postgraduate Research Co-Ordinator and Lecturer in History at The Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands.

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