The Carmichael Watson Project

Pròiseact MhicGilleMhìcheil MhicBhatair


Alexander Carmichael's collections are remarkable for their depth and diversity, ranging from oral traditions such as charms and historical legends to material culture such as Jacobite brooches and quern-stones. There are three major repositories for Carmichael's collections: Edinburgh University Library's Centre for Research Collections, The National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh) and The West Highland Museum (Fort William).

Edinburgh University Library (Centre for Research Collections):

In May 1948, Edinburgh University received the Carmichael Watson Bequest, bequeathed them by Professor William J. Watson, and his son, Professor James Carmichael Watson, a grandson of Alexander Carmichael. The collection consists of around 1400 printed volumes and the part known as the Carmichael Watson Collection, mostly manuscript materials including Alexander Carmichael's all-important field and transcription notebooks.

Regarding the physical extent of the collection, it consists of 60 boxes, 149 volumes (including note and transcription books), 6 envelope folders, and 1 tube or metal cylinder - altogether taking up 9 linear metres of library shelves. The collection contains materials from a roll-call of the cream of Gaelic and Celtic scholars from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Dr Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), exciseman and pioneering folklorist; Professor William J. Watson (1865-1948), holder of the Chair of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh, onomastician and co-founder of the Scottish Gaelic Texts Society; Professor James Carmichael Watson (1910-42), who succeeded his father in the Chair of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh and whose promising career was cut short by his death during the Second World War; Elizabeth (Ella) Carmichael (1870-1928), the daughter of Alexander Carmichael and second wife of Professor William J. Watson, who edited The Celtic Review in conjunction with Professor Donald MacKinnon; Rev. Alexander Cameron of Arran (1827-88), pioneer Celtic philologist; Professor Donald MacKinnon (1839-1914), first holder of the Chair of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh; Alexander Macbain (1855-1907), Celtic scholar, philologist and lexicographer; Rev. Archibald MacDonald of Kiltarlity (1855-1948), historian and genealogist; Father Allan McDonald (1859-1905), priest, poet and folklorist; Rev. Angus MacDonald of Killearnan (1858-1932), historian and anthologist; and Rev. Charles Robertson of Jura (1885-1927), linguist and onomastician.

The Carmichael Watson Collection - from items CW1 through to CW 576 - has been catalogued and is available at Items from 1 to 487 were catalogued by the Rev. John MacKechnie (1897-1977), a Celtic scholar in his own right, who inexplicably stopped there. The remaining items - from 488 to 576 - were catalogued by Dr Laura Sugg, then undertaking doctoral research about Dr Alexander Carmichael. In addition to this, Dr Anna Frater described in detail the contents of items 488-506. Items 1-522 in the Carmichael Watson Collection have been microfilmed as part of SHEFC-funded project.

The National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh):

In the collection of the National Museum of Scotland are a number of objects originally donated by Alexander Carmichael to the museum's predecessor the National Museum of Antiquities, through the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. These include examples of medieval sculpture from the Hebrides as well as ethnographic items such as a wooden single-stilted plough. The extent of the museum's holdings of Carmichael's collection remains to be fully assessed.

National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh)

The West Highland Museum (Fort William):

The West Highland Museum in Fort William houses a remarkable collection of 96 objects gathered by Alexander Carmichael from the Scottish Gàidhealtachd, ranging from prehistoric implements to early modern brooches, from Jacobite relics to examples of island clothing. These valuable items appear to have formed Carmichael's personal collection.

The West Highland Museum (Fort William)