Research & publications
Projects, centres, networks and publications in Celtic and Scottish Studies, from journals dating back to the 1950s to new work in the digital humanities.
Selected research centres and networks
Based in Celtic & Scottish Studies, the Centre’s primary focus is the promotion of research into everyday life and society in Scotland through long-term projects such as the Regional Ethnology of Scotland and publications including Scottish Life and Society: A Compendium of Scottish ethnology.
Involving researchers such as Dr Will Lamb in Celtic & Scottish Studies, this emerging network brings together academics interested in computational research on the Gaelic languages. The Group's bilingual blog features news, opinion pieces, interviews and other resources on projects such as the development of an Automatic Speech Recognition system for Scottish Gaelic.
Selected research projects
Decoding Hidden Heritages aims to provide the most detailed account to date of convergence and divergence in the narrative traditions of Scotland and Ireland and, by extension, a novel understanding of their joint cultural history. Funded as part of the UK-Ireland Collaboration in Digital Humanities programme, the project brings together five international universities to explore folktales from the School of Scottish Studies Archives and the Irish National Folklore Collection.
Leveraging recent advances in Natural Language Processing, the project fuses deep, qualitative analysis with cutting-edge computational methodologies to decode, interpret and curate the hidden heritages of Gaelic traditional narrative. Specifically, it involves scanning, analysing and annotating around 80,000 manuscript pages using text mining and phylogenetic techniques, sharing learning and access to the collections through two online folklore portals, Dúchas and Tobar an Dualchais, and a new aggregator website.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Irish Research Council (IRC) jointly under the UK–Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities programme: August 2021 to July 2024
LLC team: Dr Will Lamb (Principal Investigator), Dr Beatrice Alex (Co-Investigator)
Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) systems are the means by which we use our voices to interact with technology such as smart devices. They are a cornerstone of modern language technology. In developing the world’s first working ASR system for Scottish Gaelic in July 2021, the Gaelic Algorithmic Research Group (GARG) opened up a range of possibilities for the language, including enhancing Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), broadening communicative domains, and facilitating automatic transcription and translation for Scottish Gaelic. These applications advance interlinked research, media and government agendas around inclusive access to languages, and the project won GARG a Gaelic Innovation Award in November 2021.
The ASR project builds upon resources and techniques developed in two previous studies: the Gaelic Part-of-Speech Tagging Project (funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig and Carnegie); and the Gaelic Handwriting Recognition Project, which involved digitising and automatically transcribing thousands of manuscripts in the School of Scottish Studies Archives. It also incorporates two recent spoken language ethnographic recording projects - Saoghal Thormoid and Stòras Beò nan Gàidheal - conducted by project partners, the University of the Highlands and Islands. Following the successful trial of the ASR system, GARG is now working with a range of partners on various applications, including in Canada on speech recognition for the Ojibwe language.
Funded by Soillse - the National Research Network for the Maintenance and Revitalisation of Gaelic Language and Culture: September 2020 to February 2021, by the Scottish Funding Council through the Edinburgh Futures Institute, a Data-Driven Innovation hub: March to July 2021, and by Bòrd na Gàidhlig: February to July 2022.
LLC team: Dr Will Lamb (Principal Investigator), Dr Beatrice Alex (Chancellor's Fellow and Turing Fellow)
Dugald MacNicol (1791-1844) was a Gaelic-speaking army officer stationed in the colonial Caribbean between 1809 and 1813. His experiences as a young man in Scotland and the West Indies are documented in a Gaelic travel journal and almost a dozen ‘òrain’ (song-poems) - the sole surviving examples of Gaelic verse from the Caribbean. Editing and translating MacNicol's work into English for the first time, From Lismore to Barbados brings his writing to a wider audience, shedding new light on Scottish participation in the British imperial and colonial enterprise. Exploring 19th century transatlantic networks, it also adds nuance and depth to our understanding of the literary and linguistic history of the Gaelic language.
In highlighting the role of minoritised ethnicities and languages in the Caribbean colonial world, the project engages with contemporary, so-called ‘remote’ communities who have been historically marginalised on both sides of the Atlantic. Project partners include heritage groups on the island of Lismore in the Inner Hebrides, where MacNicol’s father was minister, and in Barbados where he spent much of his adult life. A series of events is planned in both Scotland and the Caribbean, along with teaching materials for schools. The project is the latest collaboration between Dr Peadar Ó Muircheartaigh (University of Edinburgh) and Professor Nigel Leask (University of Glasgow), who jointly won the Jack Medal 2022 for a study of one of MacNicol's poems, a lament for Argyll composed in the Caribbean.
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): 1 February 2024 to 31 January 2026
LLC team: Dr Peadar Ó Muircheartaigh (Principal Investigator)
Since the late 20th century, traditional musicians in Scotland have been developing experimental creative practices that draw on 'the tradition' but move beyond its conventions and structures into innovative and extended compositions. Building on her doctoral thesis of 2013, which identified this unique community of practice, Dr Lori Watson is now providing the first scholarly documentation and analysis of The New Traditional School in Scotland and its activities. A pilot study to map the School in a database found that it was far bigger than expected, with over 170 composers professionally active. Activity of this nature and scale has not been seen in Scotland before, though there are similar examples of artistic activity elsewhere in Europe.
As a composing musician herself, Lori is seeking to advance both practice and understanding of contemporary traditional music. Over the course of the project, her research methods have included a national survey of traditional musician / composers, and in-depth interviews with a number of her peers; the latter in collaboration with Ruth Barrie, Waltzer Films. She has analysed musical scores, recordings, literature, archival and other data from 1976 to the present day, and developed a series of residences to explore the creative process as it happens. Collectively, the data will feed into the establishment of new collections at the Scottish Music Centre, Glasgow and the School of Scottish Studies Archives, Edinburgh.
Funded by a Small Grant Award from the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) as part of the RSE Research Awards programme: November 2021 to October 2022, by the University of Edinburgh's Creative Informatics PhD Student Assistance scheme, and by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through a Fellowship: June 2023 to December 2024.
LLC team: Dr Lori Watson (Principal Investigator), Alexandra Huang (Research Assistant)
This research stands apart from most studies of Scottish identity by focusing not on national context but on the role that individuals’ stories and memories play in shaping and understanding history. Managed by the European Ethnological Research Centre, the Regional Ethnology of Scotland Project has its roots in the major, 14-volume series “Scottish Life and Society: a Compendium of Scottish Ethnology”, but is even larger in scale and more granular in focus. Divided into two themes - the Spoken Word, and the Written Word - the project utilises a ‘study with’ rather than ‘study of’ methodology. This involves recruiting and training on-the-ground volunteers to record and transcribe primary source material on everyday life and society in Scotland, past and present.
Over the course of a six-year pilot (2011-2017), 60 volunteer ethnologists recorded the oral histories of 375 people in Dumfries and Galloway, one of Scotland’s largest local authority areas. Since then, the project’s geographic focus has shifted to East Lothian, Dundee, Lewis and Harris, Edinburgh and the North East (2018-2022), and to the collation of historical documents (account books, diaries, journals, and letters) from across Scotland. Participants ranging from 8 to 103 years have reported many benefits, from personal development to community cohesion and resilience to the challenges associated with an ageing population. As well as making material available through community partners, the researchers have - in partnership with the University's Centre for Research Collections - created an online archive resource which enables free access to project materials.
Funded by the Scotland Inheritance Fund: 2011-2016; 2016-2023
LLC team: Professor Gary West (2011-2021), Dr Neill Martin, Mark Mulhern, Dr Kenneth Veitch, Caroline Milligan
By the turn of the 21st century, UNESCO had categorised Scottish Gaelic as an ‘endangered’ language. Over the past 20 years, successive Scottish governments have sought to reverse this decline, revitalising Scotland’s Gaelic language, culture and heritage in a range of ways. Using their research into language development in both an historical and comparative context, as well as linguistic work and research on education and media, colleagues in Celtic and Scottish Studies have helped the lead Gaelic development agency, Bòrd na Gàidhlig, to shape evidence-based policy on language planning and maintenance, including through the development of three successive National Gaelic Language Plans.
The research has played a critical role in the development of Gaelic education policy and helped lawmakers strengthen education authorities’ obligations in relation to Gaelic Medium Education (GME). It has demonstrated the high attainment of pupils in GME, who are comparatively more accomplished in English reading than English-medium pupils. A retraining programme started in 2014 has now returned approximately 30 professionals to teach through the medium of Gaelic in schools across the country. By the 2019/20 academic year, over 5,000 pupils in Scotland were enrolled in GME, a 34.4% increase from 2013/14.
Funded by Bòrd na Gàidhlig
LLC team: Professor Rob Dunbar, Professor Wilson McLeod, Dr Fiona O’Hanlon (Postdoctoral Fellow, 2010-2014), Dr Stuart Dunmore (Postdoctoral Fellow)
Founded in 1984, the Review of Scottish Culture (ROSC) is an international, fully peer-reviewed journal hosted by the European Ethnological Research Centre. In 2023, after 28 print volumes, it relaunches as an online publication. Published annually, the journal focuses on the cultural heritage of Scotland, specifically its ethnology (folklore and folklife). The editors welcome submissions considering the culture of Scotland – both as it is expressed today and as it connects to the past and future.
Established in 1957, and now on Volume 39, the open access Scottish Studies journal presents the results of a wide range of research into traditional and contemporary Scottish life. Subjects include traditional tales, oral narrative, oral Tradition, musicology and song, custom and belief, material culture, farming and fishing, rural settlement and urban life, regional history, social history, place names, surnames, language and literature.
Regarded by some as “the most important series of traditional recordings ever…”, this collection of song and spoken word is published by Greentrax. It currently runs to 28 volumes of music, rhymes, stories and more by both Gaelic and Scots tradition bearers in the School of Scottish Studies Archives.
First published by the School of Scottish Studies Archives (SSSA) in 1971, and supported by volunteers, Tocher: Tales, Songs, Tradition ran for 59 issues until 2009. Transcribed from recordings held in the SSSA Sound Archive, its contents included songs, stories, music, customs, beliefs, local history, rhymes and riddles from across Scotland.
Gaelic material was presented with translation, and dialects were included - glossed where appropriate. The journal also included supplementary material, such as photographs, from other collections in the Archives.
School of Scottish Studies Archives
The School of Scottish Studies Archives is an invaluable resource in the field of Scottish Studies containing many thousands of recordings, photos and manuscripts relating to the cultural traditions and folklore of Scotland.
Join our community and undertake a specialised research project under the guidance of experienced and well-published supervisors. We offer Masters by Research degrees in Celtic Studies and Scottish Ethnology, and a PhD in Celtic and Scottish Studies.