Research seminars

Karen McAulay: A Scattered Heritage – Britain’s Georgian Legal Deposit Music

Event details

Speaker: Karen McAulay (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) 

Date: 18 October 2018

Time: 5.15-6.30 pm  

Venue: Lecture Room A, Alison House, 12 Nicolson Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9DF


Perhaps less glamorous than a newly-discovered pile of manuscripts, Britain’s surviving Georgian legal deposit music makes up in quantity for what it sometimes lacks in star quality.  The principal of legal deposit has always been that copies of everything published should be registered, and then safely deposited in a few designated libraries.  In the 18th and early 19th centuries, there was a considerable gap between the theory and the practice, particularly with music – but a lot still survives.  I was awarded AHRC funding to establish a research network to explore what became of it all.   

The University of Edinburgh was one of the designated legal deposit libraries at this time.  It’s fair to say that the University kept less music than some of the other libraries did – but by no means the least!  Edinburgh’s Hans Gál made a selective catalogue of music in the Reid School of Music, but he was dismissive of British music of this era, so he didn’t catalogue it all.  In fairness, he wasn’t alone in his views.  However, as a record of our cultural history, it is invaluable – and there are gems amongst the dross.  As a corpus of music, it can be examined to inform us about musical tastes, musical education, and even the music publishing trade.   

In this talk, I shall share with you how I set about exploring the Edinburgh legal deposit music, and what I’ve found out about it so far. I’ll highlight what the university professors decided to keep – in an era decades before the Reid Music Professorship was established – and tell you where you might find more of the same.  You might even feel inspired to try some historically informed performances! 


Karen McAulay occupies a dual role as a Performing Arts Librarian and Postdoctoral Researcher at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Her doctoral thesis (University of Glasgow, 2009) was subsequently published in augmented form as a book, Our Ancient National Airs: Scottish Song Collecting from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Era, by Ashgate in 2013, and she has also contributed a chapter to the Routledge essay collection, Understanding Scotland Musically: Folk Tradition and Policy (2018).  Karen has been a postdoctoral researcher on the AHRC-funded ‘Bass Culture’ project (2012-2015), and is currently Principal Investigator for the AHRC-funded research network, ‘Claimed From Stationers’ Hall’ (2017-2018), exploring early legal deposit music collections around the UK. 

Karen holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Librarianship, is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, and holds a Personal Achievement Award from IAML (UK & Ireland).  Additionally, she holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Arts Education, and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

Related links

Karen's animated bibliography (external page)

Slides from Karen's talk (internal, requires EASE login) (secured)

Oct 18 2018 -

Karen McAulay: A Scattered Heritage – Britain’s Georgian Legal Deposit Music

Karen McAulay (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) shares how she set about exploring the Edinburgh legal deposit music, and what she found out about it.

Lecture Room A
Alison House
12 Nicolson Square