Information Services

Sound Archive

History and resources of the School of Scottish Studies Sound Archive.

Hamish Henderson

The School of Scottish Studies was established in 1951 at the University of Edinburgh to collect, archive, research and publish material relating to the cultural life, folklore and traditional arts of Scotland. Over the past seventy years, fieldworkers at the School have made thousands of recordings of songs, instrumental music, tales, verse, customs, beliefs, place-names biographical information and local history. Material in the Sound Archive comes from all over Scotland and its diaspora, and as well as being a rich repository of oral tradition it is invaluable for its range of dialects and accents in Gaelic, Scots and English.

The early collectors visited crofting, farming and fishing communities obtaining information on subjects such as the life of crofters and farm servants, the agricultural year, food gathering and preparation, house construction, the herring industry, traditional medicine, animal husbandry, emigration, whaling, religion, weather lore, lifecycle and seasonal customs. Urban life has also been documented and there are recollections of shipbuilding, factory work, transport, housing and street life, schooling, as well as contemporary fieldwork examining the re-invention of customs and use of ‘heritage’. Recordings from the Scottish Place Name Survey, and the Linguistic Survey of Scotland are also available along with ancillary materials such as maps and field notebooks. There is a substantial number of donated collections in the Sound Archive, including various local history projects, among them the notable Scottish Labour History Project which focused on work and occupations in the central belt during the 20th century.

Music and Song

Women waulking the cloth

Songs and instrumental music have an important place in the Archive. Around half of the recordings contain Gaelic and Scots songs. These include love songs, waulking songs, laments, narrative ballads, sea songs, music-hall, Jacobite songs, local compositions, psalms, political songs, comic songs, lullabies, children’s rhymes, diddling and puirt-a-beul (mouth music).

There is a particularly rich range of piping including recordings of individual pipers and their repertoires, canntaireachd and piobaireachd songs. Fiddle music includes different styles, particularly from the North-East and Shetland. Ceilidh and dance bands have also been recorded.

Donated material includes over 4000 published discs of music-hall, folk and traditional music from Scotland and the rest of Europe. There are also field recordings from Appalachia, India and Uganda, and the extensive John Levy Collection which consists, mainly, of religious music from Asia.

Modern ladies wearing traditional fishwife costume


The Tale Archive contains many stories, some of which originated centuries ago and were transmitted orally from generation to generation. There are supernatural legends of fairies witches and ghosts, accounts of historical events including the Clearances and clan battles, humorous anecdotes and a large number of tales from Scotland's Travellers.

The sound recordings are complemented by an comparative stories and tales from books and early periodicals.

Scottish Tradition 22 CD cover


A selection of material from the sound archive is available on the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o' Riches website. Transcriptions of songs, tales, customs, riddles, beliefs and all kinds of oral tradition are published in our journal, Tocher, along with accompanying translations and music. Some of these, with original audio, are available on the PEARL website.

The Scottish Tradition series of CDs and cassettes, published by Greentrax, contains various themed compilations of piping and fiddle music, Gaelic and Scots songs, stories and customs. The book 'Scottish Traditional Tales' by Alan Bruford and Donald Archie MacDonald also features a variety of tales with notes and annotation (Polygon, 1994).

Sound archive shelves

Visiting the Sound Archive

The SSSA&L is currently closed to visitors. Please get in touch with us via email ( to discuss your research needs and we will be able to assist.  You can also find information about access to our collections in the links below.