Invernessian wells and water: folklore on the fringes of Empire

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In this article, I consider a slim collection of Scottish folklore: Alex Fraser’s 'Northern Folk-lore: On Wells and Water; With an Account of Some Interesting Wells in the Neighbourhood of Inverness and the North' (1878). Through a close reading of the text and a comparison with the work of other Scottish folklorists – notably Hugh Miller and I. F. Grant - I attempt to contextualise the book within the wider concerns of British colonial expansion at the beginning of the ‘Scramble for Africa’ (1885-1914).
I explore how Fraser’s work represents a subtle but important shift in the relationship between the folklorist and subject, where the folklorist is positioned as educated and civilised, and those who maintained folkloric practices are regarded as lacking, and thus requiring, a civilising hand.I focus on Fraser in order to demonstrate that the methodologies employed in Africa were first seen and tested within a European context. Thus, I suggest that Fraser’s book can be read as an early example of a folklorist utilising these methods by subtly but self-consciously positioning himself as intellectually and culturally disconnected from the people that he is documenting, representing them as ‘other’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-34
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of British Identities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sept 2017


  • Folklore
  • British Empire
  • Highlands


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