Between 16 and 30 June 1934 two Swedish ethnologists, Sven T Kjellberg and Olof Hasslöf, toured the Outer Hebrides, mainly on bicycles. During their travels they visited the homes of many ordinary people of the islands, making drawings and taking photographs and discussing with the residents, where they spoke English, their way of life, their domestic arrangements, and how they made a living. The results of their tour, in the form of a diary, supporting notes, and images, were then archived in the Gothenburg Museum where they remained, largely forgotten, for over three decades.
The editor and part author of this book, Professor Alexander Fenton CBE, who died just two days before it was published, came across this material on a visit to Gothenburgh in 1970. The core of "A Swedish Field Trip to the Outer Hebrides, 1934" is provided by the diary written by Hasslöf during the visit and the complementary notes and drawings of Kjellberg, plus many of their photographs of residents of the islands, their homes, and their day to day work. The opening and closing quarters of the book are written by Alexander Fenton himself, and set the work of the Swedes in context.
Part 1 of the book looks at the ethnological background to the Outer Hebrides in the 1930s, and as the Swedes paid particular attention to the dwellings of the Hebrideans they encountered, goes into considerable detail about housing types and, in particular about the blackhouses which were still common at the time but which later largely disappeared apart from a very few preserved or restored examples. In Part 3 of the book, Alexander Fenton compares and contrasts the picture presented by the Swedish visitors in 1934 with the one that emerges from "The New Statistical Account of Scotland" a century earlier in the 1830s and 1840s.
This is a fairly specialised book, but a beautifully produced one that draws the more casual reader in with its wonderful photographs and fascinating drawings. Anyone who lives in or visits the Outer Hebrides and wonders about the unusual settlement patterns you can see today, often complete with the ruins of earlier generations of dwellings, will find this book a hugely enlightening read.