How song became vital to the survival of a Scottish national identity after the Highlanders lost to the British at the Battle of Culloden

By Jennifer Jacobs

From the moment the train pulled away from Edinburgh’s Waverly Station into the rolling hills of the Scottish countryside, I knew it was worth the trip. While the primary goal of my visit was to collect sources for my thesis, it also served another purpose: to allow me to see and experience for myself the land for which individuals were willing to risk their lives and livelihoods in the eighteenth century. My thesis explores how song, once just a traditional cultural practice, became vital to the survival of a Scottish national identity after the Highlanders lost to the British at the Battle of Culloden, the final fight of the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

When I arrived in Inverness, one of the largest cities in the Highland region, many people were curious as to what brought me there in the middle of Janurary, when the sun would never fully rise and would set by 3 p.m. But with the few hours of daylight I did have, I visited Culloden Battlefield, museums, bookshops, castles, natural wonders, as well as the Highland Archive Centre and Highland Folk Museum archives in Newtonmore, Scotland. By night I visited venues that had live folk music performances and was able to see how the tradition I was studying in the archives was still alive and well in Scotland today.

After a couple of days exploring Inverness and the wider Highland region, I took the train back down to Edinburgh where the heavy research efforts began. I spent hours at the University of Edinburgh’s Scottish Studies Library and Archive listening to recordings of songs and reading through transcripts of interviews they had conducted with Highlanders in order to collect folk songs and stories. I also spent a significant amount of time at the National Library of Scotland where I found sources that painted a bigger picture of life before and after the Jacobite movement spread throughout the Highlands.

It is thanks to all the research conducted throughout my trip to Scotland that helped me not only restructure my thesis, but also provided me with key primary sources and unforgettable cultural experiences. Once among the natural wonders of the Highlands, it was easy to understand why many would turn to poetry and song to encapsulate its beauty. Thank you so much to the History Department and the Evalyn Clark Fellowship Committee for providing me with this amazing opportunity.