HISTORICAL research into "the violent, untamed, alcohol-fuelled wild men of the Scottish Highlands" has been condemned as grossly inaccurate.

Lynn Abrams, Professor of Gender History at Glasgow University, found that, as Highland men became more civilised, it heralded the dawn of a new period of Highland enlightenment.

However, award-winning Gaelic poet, novelist and commentator Angus Peter Campbell believes her research is flawed.

In an article to be published in the Scottish Historical Review, Ms Abrams argues a more modern model of disciplined masculinity between 1760 and 1840 subsumed a previous Highland culture that was lawless, violent and drunken.

This led to a reduction in the levels of violence between Highland men "as traditional clan notions of retribution through violence were phased out and replaced".

What took their place, she said, was a culture of civility and restraint between men.

She added: "Over time, in effect, fists and weapons were replaced with words."

Ms Abrams said that by 1750 literacy rates in the rest of Scotland were among the highest in Europe, and great Scottish thinkers like Adam Smith and David Hume stood at the forefront of the great Age of Enlightenment that had swept through Europe over the course of the previous century.

But she added: "Innovations that had paved the way for industrial and social modernisation had not yet gained a foothold in the Scottish Highlands and there still existed an archaic and violent 'code of manhood' whereby men, likely to be intoxicated and with few rules to follow, affirmed their social status, settled disputes and restored family honour through violence."

But in the post-Jacobite era – after 1750 – along with the social and economic "improvement" came considerable social breakdown in traditional clan allegiances.

She said: "Coupled with the civilising effects of the Enlightenment, which offered a new model of disciplined masculinity underpinned by an effective legal system, a modern pattern of civility and restraint amongst the 'wild men' of the Highlands evolved."

Ms Abrams based her research on the records of the High Court on circuit, the sheriff and burgh courts in Inverness.

However, Mr Campbell questioned Ms Abrams's knowledge of Gaelic, and said it would be difficult for anyone to understand Highland society at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 20th century without the language.

He said: "Of course there were 'codes of manhood' – as there were in Glasgow and London and in darkest Paris – but to portray the Highlands as a benighted land of interpersonal violence strikes me as a gross misrepresentation.

"To say that 'over time, in effect, fists and weapons were replaced with words' of course suggests that previously we were wordless savages."

He said the pre-Enlightenment Highland society "both peasant and aristocratic, was in fact abounding with words, lyrics, poems, and non-violent ways of dealing with pressing issues".

He commended the Gaelic "pre-Enlightenment' poet Cathal MacMhuirich to Ms Abrams.

He said: "MacMuhuirich began his poem to Dòmnhnall Mac Ailein of Clanranald thus – 'The Hebrides are a forest of learned men.' Even given 17th-century spin he was not telling a lie."