A Dance Called America

This is the last of my series of posts on “Dance” See also Riverdance.

James Hunter has written several books on the Highland Clearances and the long-term consequences of the large-scale emigration of Scottish Highlanders to North America. This was a subject that many Aberdeen sociologists were interested in, most of all Ian Carter.

My contribution was much more marginal,  a paper submitted to Social Theory and Practice (abstract on my IBF Homepage) from Aberdeen but cleared for publication while at Minnesota: half was on the Germanisation of Prussian Poland and the other half on the Highland Clearances. But John Prebble‘s book The Highland Clearances, one of the three books – the others being Glencoe and Culloden – comprising the Fire and Sword Trilogy was a key publication in Critical Sociology (the other being the Trial of Patrick Sellar by Ian Grimble, 1962), both cited in my 1972 article.

In A Dance Called America: the Scottish Highlands, the United States and Canada (1994, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh) James Hunter looks at the migration of highlanders to North America. Much of the book is about migration specifically to Canada, in which the Canadian Pacific Railway figures prominently as do the explorations of Simon Fraser“Simon Thomas Fraser (20 May 1776 – 18 August 1862) was a Scottish fur trader and an explorer who charted much of what is now the Canadian province of British Columbia. Fraser was employed by the Montreal based North West Company. By 1805, he had been put in charge of all the company’s operations west of the Rocky Mountains. He was responsible for building that area’s first trading posts, and, in 1808, he explored what is now known as the Fraser River, which bears his name.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Fraser_(explorer). There is also a description of the Fraser River, which is quite terrifying, take from Hugh MacLennan Seven Rivers of Canada (Toronto 1970, p. 142):

“But the Fraser is neither short nor shallow. It is nearly 100 miles longer than the Rhine and flows with cataract force for more than 600 miles with only a few interludes of relative quiet. In a sense the Fraser does not flow at all. It seethes along with whirlpools so fierce that a log going down it may circle the same spot for days as though caught in a liquid merry-go-round. It roars like n ocean in a storm, but ocean storms blow themselves out while Fraser’s roar is forever.”

Below is the final paragraph of the book, beginning with the quote from James Boswell, and ending with the music of Runrig.

“`in the evening´James Boswell wrote on the occasion of his 1773 visit to the island where I now live, `the company danced as usual. They performed, with much activity, a dance, which, I suppose, the emigration from Skye had occasioned. They call it America. Each of the couples, after the common involutions and evolutions, successively whirls round in a circle, till all are in motion; and the dance seems intended to show how emigration catches, till a whole neighbourhood is set afloat.”

“Getting back into my car, I listen once more to Runrig’s music and think a bit about the places I have seen, the people I have met, the history books, the novels, and the poems I have read – all of them reflecting, one way or another, the enduring Scottish Highland impact on this continent. It is a long time since it started, but the dance they call America continues still.”

Ever since I was a child I have had a fascination with Canada, coming from the Jack London short stories about the Hudson’s Bay CompanyKlondike and the North West Company. I’ve never had the opportunity to visit Canada while I was well enough to travel. Life has been too full of a wide range of rewarding experiences, so I have no complaint.

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