Guest blog from Dr Louise Senior, working on the North Harris Trust Oral History Project

Issie and I were delighted to be invited along to the Tuesday ceilidh at Clisham Ward. We helped out by making tea and coffee for everybody and distributing the cakes and biscuits that Ellie had provided, and we enjoyed a bit of a chinwag as everyone got themselves settled in and comfortable.

Issie and I took along lots of visual information from the Community Land Scotland oral history project exhibition. It all relates to the history or land ownership in North and West Harris and the community buyouts. As none of the men and women who came along to the ceilidh had any Harris connections, we didn’t spend much time talking about it. It seemed better to focus on things that interested the people who were there. Luckily Paula and Kate had arranged for us to borrow their crofting memory box as it links in with our own project insofar as much of North and West Harris are under crofting tenure. Issie wouldn’t let me open the box beforehand, so its contents were as much a surprise and moment of exploration for us as for anyone else.

One of the ladies was very keen to see what was inside the big yellow box that was sitting in the middle of the table. The first item out of the box was a huge bag…most of us didn’t have a clue what it was for, but Issie is a crofter from Assynt and she explained that the bag is used for collecting the sheep fleeces. The bag stirred lots of memories for Issie and we all enjoyed her sharing her memories of clipping the sheep.

All of the other items in the box were much smaller and easier to handle. One man liked the dried seaweed in a jar. We took it out of the jar and felt its textures and sniffed it to see if we could detect any smell. We passed it all around the table – some were more impressed with it than others!

There were lots of implements relating to butter and cream production. Everybody seemed to know what they were for except for me – I think I’m a bit too young to remember such things. It was lovely to hear people explain how they were used. One lady and one man in particular spent time showing us how these implements were used and sharing their memories of using them when they were growing up.

The crofting memory box proved a hit. There were so many interesting things in it that sparked memories for people that we barely began to explore the contents properly. As each item came out and was passed around, we invariably got caught up in it. There was plenty left in the box at the end of the session still to be looked at, but time ran away with us.

As well as being a thoroughly enjoyable session, using the crofting box helped Issie and I realise how helpful tactile items can be in sparking memories for people. We will need to think really hard about how to translate the contents of our exhibition, which are mainly visual and textual, into something that might be a bit more interactive and meaningful for people. I suppose an exhibition is actually very limited in who it can reach, so this will be an excellent challenge for us as we would love to reach as many people as possible.

Dr Louise Senior

Many thanks to Dr Issie McPhail for the images and her work on the session.

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