The division of Scotland into two cultural areas, the Highlands and the Lowlands, can be traced to the works of early writers who romanticized rural life in northern Scotland. Anthropological research, which began in the 1950s, accepted this distinction, and most of the ethnographic data have been collected in small rural communities.
The history of the Highlands has been characterized by a number of events that have led to the present-day conditions. There has been a steady deforestation of the Highlands since 1700. The clan system was broken up following the 1715 and 1745 conflicts with England. An increase in population, coupled with declining resources, placed great hardships on the people throughout the eighteenth century. The nineteenth century proved even more calamitous. In the Hebrides, for example, the cheviot was introduced in 1810; the kelp industry diminished after 1821; the potato blight occurred in 1828; and the herring disappeared in 1830. The cheviot, a species of sheep able to withstand severe winter conditions, replaced people who were cleared from the land beginning in 1828. The years 1846 and 1847 witnessed the potato famine throughout the Highlands. The policy of the government was that the laird was responsible for the welfare of the people living on estates. In 1883 the Napier Commission redefined the responsibility of government, an action which eventually led to the government's becoming the largest landholder in the Highlands and thus having greater responsibility for the Social and economic needs of the residents. The 1886 Crofter Act gave lands to individuals and established the crofting system.