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Highland Scots' and American Indians' common problems

Published May 3, 2004; Category: ARTS & SCIENCES

Historian's next book will examine striking parallels between the plights of two indigenous peoples

As a boy growing up in the north of England, Colin Calloway learned Scottish history from his mother's family, who are Highland Scots. As a young man, he chose the study of American Indian history as his occupation. And now, with the help of a research fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Professor of History and Native American Studies will turn his attention to a project that examines the common experiences and interactions of the two groups.

Colin Calloway
On the heels of his much-noticed book about the Native American West before Lewis and Clark, Colin Calloway's next book will examine American Indians, Highland Scots and their common experiences with colonial powers. (photo by Joe Mehling '69)

Titled "Clan, Tribe and Nation: American Indians, Highland Scots and Colonial Encounters," the project has "presented itself to me repeatedly over the years," said Calloway, who has been a permanent member of the Dartmouth faculty since 1995. "The parallels between Highland Scots and Native Americans are very compelling."

"If you compare 17th and 18th century English accounts of Highland Scots to colonial accounts of American Indians, you see almost identical terms used to describe them. They're seen as 'barbarians' in need of the English language and religion and civilization," he said.

Both groups were pushed out of their ancestral lands, their traditional food sources - cattle in the Highlands and bison on the Great Plains - decimated to make way for other livestock farming. Eventually, too, the conquering cultures would romanticize the indigenous peoples.

"Once the threat was removed, it was safe to regard them with a certain sense of nostalgia," said Calloway, citing examples of works by Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper.

Calloway, who is half Scottish and half English, will use the $50,000 ACLS fellowship to spend the next academic year completing research for a book on the Highland Scot/Native American connection, focusing particularly on the 18th and 19th centuries. Much of his research will take place in the United States and Canada, where the two groups often came together through the fur and deerskin industry. Scottish traders in the New World frequently intermarried with the Native Americans, resulting in a complicated joint history.

The ACLS fellowship is just the most recent in a series of accolades Calloway has received this year. In March, the Organization of American Historians co-awarded his book One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark the Merle Curti Award in social history. His co-winner was Steven Hahn, author of this year's Pulitzer Prize-winning book in American history, A Nation Under Our Feet. In June, the Western Writers of America will present Calloway's book their annual Spur Award as well.

The ACLS is a private nonprofit federation of 67 national scholarly organizations. The mission of the ACLS is "the advancement of humanistic studies in all fields of learning in the humanities and the social sciences and the maintenance and strengthening of relations among the national societies devoted to such studies."

By TAMARA STEINERT

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Last Updated: 12/17/08