Yes, there were opportunities for that and in a way that has continued because ... Just let me think of a couple of good examples. I mentioned in connection with the Tiree Project that there were forms of evidence available to us of a consistent kind that are not available for all communities in Scotland, and in the case of Tiree, the island outermost of the Inner Hebrides, had belonged to the Argyll Estates, the Campbells of Argyll, as part of their estates from the third quarter of the seventeenth century. It’d been Campbell Maclean territory before that and Macdonald territory before that. But the Campbells of Argyll were good record keepers. They wanted to know what was happening on their estates and they had a system of factors and chamberlains and so on reporting to them, and so there’s quite a wealth of estate documentation about Tiree and about other areas in the Argyll Estates. But of course these records only contain material about certain things. They have to do with crops and stock and productivity and who’s paid his rent and who hasn’t. They don’t tell you very much really about the cultural life of the townships or about religious life or family life and so on. There are lots of big missing areas. And even in an island community like Tiree where the oral tradition is very rich and extensive, there are also topics and features which don’t appear. It’s pretty rare in oral tradition, especially when one is going back many generations, to get very specific dates for instance. Dating is very often given in a relative fashion: “Oh, that happened in the year the potato blight took place,” or: “That took place before the year of the winter of the yellow snow,” and so on. So as a folklorist using oral sources, you begin to detect what you can detect in other forms of narrative and storytelling, for example. You can see the tendency of a very forceful personality to almost act as a magnet to draw events and activities to himself or herself that perhaps took place over a sequence of periods but, you know, appear in the narrative to take place all at one time. But a trained folklorist can identify those in a way that a historian cannot because historians’ training is rather different. And so it was interesting, for example, to collect family stories and very often family history and ancillary narratives were a source for us.

  • Margaret Mackay
Thursday 17th June 2010