The Carmichael Watson Project

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People and Places

During the fifty years he recorded throughout the Highlands and Islands, Alexander Carmichael followed the instructions of his folklore mentor John Francis Campbell of Islay: to note down the date and place of recording, reciters' names, occupations, and occasionally their age or from whom they heard the material. In contrast to other contemporary collections made during the nineteenth century, it is not an amorphous collection of material noted down from the 'folk'. Because of this, a remarkable database has been created of people - over 400 of them - who met Carmichael and give him their lore. His informants ranged from a remarkable six-year old boy in South Uist to a eighty-four year old female St Kildan. Carmichael's life's work stands out from many other contemporary nineteenth-century collectors for its variety, the richness and detail of its social context, and the depth of his engagement with material culture and the environment.

Alexander Carmichael had various postings with the excise through the Highlands and Islands, but his most active collecting took place during the eighteen years he spent in Uist and Barra in the Outer Hebrides. In order of sequence, he began to collect folklore in Islay, then he was posted to Carbost in Skye where he remained for two years. A subsequent two-year posting to Cornwall represents a gap in his collecting, but in 1864 he moved to Uist at his own request. Even after semi-retiral to Edinburgh in 1882, Carmichael often returned to conduct further fieldwork in areas such as his native Argyllshire or mainland Ross-shire. Carmichael's tenacity for collecting is reflected in a comment made by his friend, the Rev. Kenneth MacLeod: 'What he failed to get in Uist he searched for in Glen Garry; what he lost in Kintyre he tracked in Sutherland.'

Dates and People in the Life of Alexander Carmichael (PDF)