Accepted Papers:

Materiality and meaning of blackhouses  


Tessa Poller (University of Glasgow)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper will explore the differing and sometimes conflicting ways blackhouses and the landscape are treated in relation to the maintenance of social identity in Isle of Lewis, Scotland.

Paper long abstract:

Blackhouses are a fast disappearing form of vernacular stone-built house. These houses were an integral part of the 19th and 20th century Hebridean social-economic way of life, one that depended on the wider landscape- cultivating of crops, cutting peat and tending livestock. Local communities in Lewis, those from other places (but who feel their roots are in Lewis) and archaeologists all have varying perceptions of the role of blackhouses in the contemporary world. For many within the local communities the blackhouses are remembered as the vestiges of a bygone era. Their identity and memories are, however, not bound to the physical preservation of these structures in their everyday life. Contrastingly, there are those, such as members of the Hebridean diaspora and archaeologists (each with their own motivation) who want to preserve and record the blackhouses in their 'natural' setting. This paper will explore how the materiality and setting of blackhouses relate to the social identity of each of these groups.

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Imagining past and present landscapes