Thursday, 21 February 2013

Collections Corner: Remembering Professor James B Caird

Our Collections Corner post this month is about Professor James B Caird, Emeritus Professor of Geography in the University of Dundee, long-term RSGS Council Member, Trustee, and Chairman of RSGS Dundee Centre, who died on 30 December 2012 at the age of eighty four.  

A Memorial Service in Broughty Ferry, on 19 January 2013, brought back vivid memories of this most kindly and hospitable of men and of a remarkable RSGS Field Trip to the Outer Hebrides which he led a quarter of a century ago, in August 1988. As a historical geographer, Jimmy Caird spent many research hours tracking down missing early maps of these islands - and involving others in the fascinating hunt. His Gaelic-speaking wife, Isa, who accompanied us on the trip, came from the islands - from the crofting settlement of Sollas on North Uist - and it is on this island that Jimmy's remains are laid to rest.

A detail from RSGS’s copy of Sheet 89 of the Third Edition of the Ordnance Survey’s One-Inch to the Mile map, published just over a hundred years ago in 1911, towards the end of a period of large-scale changes in land tenure and settlement – the study of which was the greater part of Jimmy Caird’s academic research - shows that part of North Uist with which he was most familiar.  He would have waxed eloquent over both the map and its content.

North Uist Map 1911
North Uist 1911. Detail from Sheet 89 of the Third Edition of the Ordnance Survey's One-Inch to the Mile map.

With the title, ‘From Barra to the Butt of Lewis’, the Field Trip began with the ferry ride from Oban to Castlebay - the main settlement on the island of Barra - and ended on another ferry as it left Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis for the Scottish mainland port of Ullapool at the unseasonal hour of 05.00.  Waving us off from its berth with his usual beaming smile was Jimmy Caird.

In between, we were treated to a geographically-packed traverse from south to north of the main inhabited islands of the Outer Hebrides.  Nothing was left out in the way of geographical exposition, visits to all kinds of geographical phenomena in the landscape, evening discourses by local speakers as well as diversions down narrow minor roads or tracks to places Jimmy thought we should see. 

This blog is a tribute to a great Scottish geographical teacher and map user.