Gary West

Personal Chair in Scottish Ethnology, Director of the European Ethnological Research Centre


Gary West was born and brought up in Highland Perthshire, attending Pitlochry High School and Breadalbane Academy, before moving to Edinburgh at the age of 18. He was the first person to graduate from the University of Edinburgh in the newly launched degree entitled Scottish Ethnology and Scottish Historical Studies, in 1988. Following a brief and ill-judged period as a banker, he returned to the School of Scottish Studies to undertake a PhD, and was later appointed to the staff there as a lecturer in 1994. He was appointed to senior lecturer in 2006, and to a personal chair in 2015. Since 2012 he has also served as the Director of the European Ethnological Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh.

From the age of 7 he has been highly active within the field of traditional music, learning his trade with the innovative Vale of Atholl Pipe Band with whom he won both the Scottish and European Championships. On settling in Edinburgh he moved sideways into the folk music scene, joining the band Ceolbeg in 1988, and the so-called ‘Scottish folk supergroup’, Clan Alba, in 1993. In more recent years he has played and recorded with a variety of musicians, and has toured widely in Europe and North America. Since 2003 he has presented the weekly specialist programme on BBC Radio Scotland, Pipeline.

His research interests centre around the general theme of the use of the past within the present, and include heritage, revivalism, oral history and the conceptualisation of tradition.

Responsibilities & affiliations

External Appointments

  • Board Member, Creative Scotland (2010-15)
  • Chair, Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (2012 to present)
  • Board Member, Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust (2016-present)
  • Member, AHRC Peer Review College (2010-present)
  • National Council Member, The Saltire Society (2015-present)
  • External Examiner, University College Dublin (2015-present)

Undergraduate teaching

Course Coordination

Additional lecturing

Postgraduate teaching

Additional Lecturing

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I am interested in working with research students on a range of topics relating to ethnology, concepts of tradition, traditional music, heritage and folklore. Examples of past supervision topics include:

  • 'Moving Beyond Words in Scotland's Corp-oral Traditions: British Sign Language Storytelling Meets the "Deaf Public Voice"'
  • 'Coming from a Shared Heart:  a Sensory Ethnography of Scottish Gaelic Shared Ethics''Survival and Revival in the Lowland and Border Bagpipe Tradition'
  • 'The Development of Piping in Southern Ontario, Canada'.
  • 'Ethnology and National Identity'
  • 'The Contemporary Role of the Kilt and Tartan in the Construction and Expression of Scottish American Identity'.
  • 'Scottish Competition Bagpipe Performance: Sound, Mode and Aesthetics’
  • 'An Ethnological Approach to Landscape and Identity'
  • 'A Highland Estate: Continuity, Change and Identity'
  • 'Negotiating the City: oral and visual narrative perspectives'. 'Ethnological Perspectives on Oral and Visual Narrative'
  • 'Women's Wartime History in the Scottish Italian Community'
  • 'The Pipe Band: Origins and Development'

Research summary

Survivals and Revivals; History of Piping; Oral History; Heritage

European Ethnological Research Centre (EERC)

As Director of the EERC, Gary has overall responsibility for a programme of research and publication relating to the study and promotion of ethnology in Scotland, set within its international context. This includes serving as Principal Investigator on a major new research project, funded by the Scotland Inheritance Fund, entitled ‘The Regional Ethnology of Scotland Project’. This initiative brings the research team together with local groups and organisations to undertake collaborative research, with a range of innovative outputs.

Knowledge exchange

Gary is highly active in the field of traditional arts and has developed a research-based concert repertoire which he has performed widely in the UK, Europe and North America. He has been particularly active in the revival of the Scottish bellows bagpipe tradition, and is recognised as one of the top performers in the world. His research also informs his scripting and presenting of the weekly programme, ‘Pipeline’ on BBC Radio Scotland which broadcasts to around 50,000 listeners in the UK, and internationally via the internet. He also takes an active role in the development of cultural policy, serving as Chair of Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland, as a board member of Creative Scotland and as a trustee of the Arts Trust Scotland. His activities have contributed to an impact case study for REF2014.

Project activity

European Ethnological Research Centre - Regional Ethnologies of Scotland; The Survivals and Revivals Project

Current project grants

Scotland Inheritance Fund - EERC 2016-2023, £1.19 million