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Myth, history and the displaced: Calloway to deliver Presidential Lecture

"It's not that tidy," Professor Colin Calloway said about the subject matter of his upcoming Feb. 9 Presidential Lecture. "Heritage, myth and memory may not be the same as history but they are not easily separated from it and they play a part in shaping it."

Colin Calloway
Colin Calloway, Professor of History and Native American Studies (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Scheduled for 4:00 p.m., in Moore Hall, Filene Auditorium, Calloway's address, "Highland Clearances, Indian Removals, and the Imagined Past," will be Dartmouth's 18th annual Presidential Lecture.

In this year's lecture, Calloway, Professor of History and Native American Studies, will draw parallels and connections between two forced migrations-separated by an ocean and by ethnic differences but united in their ability to forge both myth and ethnic identity. His lecture is based on research for an upcoming book.

The notorious Highland clearances began in Scotland in the late 18th century. Highland chiefs and large landholders like the Duke of Sutherland evicted thousands of families from the land, burning their cottages, in order to establish large, more "efficient" sheep farms. The evicted tenant families were forced into poor seacoast crofts, or tenant farms. Hardships later led thousands to emigrate to the Scottish lowlands, Canada, Australia or the United States.

Meanwhile, in North America, thousands of Native Americans were being relocated further west to make room for European settlers, including many removed from the Scottish Highlands. In both cases, the disruptions took place over many decades and became part of the cultural lore of both the displaced and the displacers. The forced depopulation led to the myth of the "empty land" just waiting for settlers to fill it. And the settlers themselves invented legends about the people they had replaced.

Calloway explained how two Romantic novelists, a royal visit and elaborate processes of myth-making helped create imagined pasts for both the Highlanders and the Native Americans. In Scotland, Sir Walter Scott worked to reinvent the clan tartan and the noble traditions of the Highlander. "What Scott did with the Highland Scots," says Calloway, "[American novelist James Fenimore] Cooper did with Indians: they were noble savages who embodied heroic traditions that were fading away before the relentless advance of a modern civilization."

The process of imagining the past continues to this day, Calloway concluded, in the revival of cultural and ethnic traditions of all kinds. But such traditions, even if partly invented, still matter. "Clearances and removals wrenched peoples from their homelands. But they carried pieces of their culture with them, as if carefully wrapped for transportation. Revitalized in another era, even reinvented, they are symbols of a remembered history of cultural survival."

A reception for Calloway and the Dartmouth community will follow the lecture.


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Last Updated: 12/17/08