Research Summary

The SSPCK, an Edinburgh-based charitable organisation founded by Royal Charter in 1709 was for much of the eighteenth-century the only organisation of its kind in Gaelic Scotland. Its mission was to establish and manage schools there to secure both the 1690 Presbyterian settlement of the Church of Scotland, and the 1707 Act of Union. In an era when much of the region still adhered to Episcopalianism or Catholicism, and gave crucial military support to Jacobitism, the SSPCK sought to compensate for the sovereign Westminster parliament’s shortcomings and lack of commitment with respect to the integration of the region into the United Kingdom. Scholars investigating eighteenth and nineteenth-century Scotland from the perspectives of the Highlands, Jacobitism, religion, education and language all acknowledge the significance of the SSPCK. However, the result is that our knowledge of the organisation itself is fragmented and partial. The main treatments – I'm by the social scientist Durkacz in 1983, and the historical geographer Withers in 1984 – concentrate upon linguistic-cultural assimilation, or anglicisation, due to the SSPCK’s insistence on prioritising English, over Gaelic, literacy. Despite the society's operation in such an important region in the formative decades of the British state it still awaits comprehensive historical study.

It is often overlooked that the society generally sought the active contribution of local Gaelic agents who were both willing and enthusiastic in their participation. This dispels the older model of ‘Anglicisation’ as one-way process from ‘centre’ to ‘periphery’. I propose a fundamental reappraisal of the role and impact of the SSPCK in the Highlands, giving centre-stage to the nature of its relationship with the people it sought to affect. This ‘native perspective’ will shed some light on the ways in which Gaelic-speaking communities received and engaged with the SSPCK in order to negotiate the character and pace of change in their localities. Furthermore, by placing the SSPCK within the broader context of the nexus of official and private institutions operating in the post-1707 British state, this study offers fresh insight into the modes and quality of governance across Britain and the development of a North British identity that would contribute to the rise of Empire. Accordingly, this study is ideally placed to test many assumptions upon which both the ‘orthodox’ historiography of the Highlands and our understanding of the operation of the fledgling British state are based.


Forthcoming: ‘The Origins, Operation & Impact of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge in the Highlands & Islands, 1680-1800’, History Scotland (July & September 2016)



    SGSAH Doctoral Training Partnership

    Additional Information

    • James Ewing Prize: Outstanding student continuing with Postgraduate study at the University of Glasgow
    • Provand’s Lordship Award: Best graduating student in Modern History
    • Fraser Macintosh Prize: Presented by the Gaelic Society of Inverness for a study of outstanding quality relating to Highland history
    • Royal Historical Society/History Scotland Prize for best dissertation (Scottish History)