Why is it so important to misremember Culloden?

Published: 19 July 2016

In his latest book Professor Murray Pittock offers a radical fresh perspective on the Battle of Culloden, which has caught the imaginations of the international media.

In his new book, Culloden, Professor Murray Pittock offers a radical fresh perspective which has caught the imaginations of the international media, writes Kat Husbands. "Arguably no battle out of living memory is remembered so powerfully and so falsely," says Professor Pittock. Crushing the caricature of the Jacobite forces as undisciplined 'noble primitives', Professor Pittock shows they were in fact professional in formation and well armed. Culloden, he suggests, is a classic case of history being written by the victors.

One of Professor Pittock’s central aims in research is to find new evidence to redefine debates based on misremembered pasts. "Interrogating memory is very important to my work. Memory governs the behaviour and expectation of individuals and societies in areas far removed from the thing remembered. The memory of Culloden is critical to how we remember what we think we know about Scotland and Britain. Everyone has a point of view about Culloden: that point of view is often independent of the evidence."

Brexit - Culloden?

His dismantling of the popular myth has been discussed in numerous TV, radio and print features. Professor Pittock told Campus eNews: "In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, journalists are looking for the 'presentist' angle.

"Reading Culloden from the point of view of today's Scotland, there are parallels: Culloden was a battle fought between the forces of British centralism and those seeking reconciliation with the Continent. But the world of 1746 was totally different."

The book draws on Professor Pittock's archival research and battlefield archaeology carried out by Professor Tony Pollard, UofG's Senior Lecturer in History/Battlefield Archaeology.

Professor Pittock will be talking about his book at a sold out show at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August. "I always look forward to discussing subjects which remain of such importance to so many people. The research we carry out in universities is ultimately only a conversation within the academy unless it engages with people's lives. The University of Glasgow is a great place to work and study for those who want to pursue that engagement."

Watch the interview...

Professor Murray Pittock

In the press 

Truth is what we make it, though evidence helps, and Prof Pittock has been diligent in his search for that. Nearly 300 years later, we are still debating what happened at Culloden, but debate is good, and Prof Pittock’s new book is a valuable contribution to that. He has sharpened his erudite blade, now let battle commence – between noble historians from all sides of civilisation. 
Herald, 14 July

Culloden was published last week by Oxford University Press, as part of their Great Battles series.

Professor Pittock is Pro-Vice Principal, Bradley Chair of English Literature, and a leading expert on Scottish identity internationally. He has previously written on the systematic misrepresentation of Jacobitism in The Myth of the Jacobite Clans: the Jacobite Army in 1745, and the rise of Scottish nationalism in The Road to Independence? Scotland Since the Sixties.

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First published: 19 July 2016

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