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MA Scottish Ethnology

UCAS code: V910

Duration: 4 years

Delivery: Full-time

School: Literatures, Languages and Cultures

College: Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Study abroad

Introducing MA Scottish Ethnology

Uncover Scotland's past and help shape its future, while gaining skills that you can apply to any culture.

Ethnology is the study of the culture and traditions of developed societies. It is sometimes described as being at the intersection where history and anthropology meet.

While ethnology is commonly offered in universities across Europe, this is the only full undergraduate programme of its kind in the UK.

Focusing on Scotland, but also looking at comparative material from elsewhere, you will study the varying ways in which a modern European nation expresses itself culturally.

The programme explores questions like:

  • how do customs, beliefs, social organisation, language, music and song help to create and shape identity in the modern world?
  • how do we use and make sense of the past from within our present?
  • how can this understanding help us to shape our future?

Follow in the footsteps of fieldworkers

A highlight of our programme is the chance to work with the rich range of materials in the School of Scottish Studies Archives and Scottish Studies Library.

You will explore the work of former staff and students who, since 1951, have been capturing elements of life in Scotland's farming and fishing communities, towns and cities.

Today, the Archives run to:

  • 33,000 recordings of songs, music, stories, rhyme and verse in Scots, Gaelic and English, as well as in dialects now extinct
  • thousands of photographs and rarely-seen historic documents which capture exceptional and everyday aspects of Scottish culture and heritage

These materials are kept alive through our teaching, undergraduate and postgraduate research, and through the work of our Traditional Artist and Gaelic Writer in Residence.

"Being encouraged to undertake independent fieldwork from very early on in the undergraduate programme had a massive impact. The sense of being thought capable of making a valuable contribution to the Archives, even as early as second year, was very empowering. I also valued the freedom we were given to explore the Archives, and come up with our own essay topics and projects. It gave me a real excitement about the subject area and all the possibilities for research."

  • Ella, Scottish Ethnology MA Hons, MSc by Research, and PhD graduate

Develop skills for a range of careers

Scottish Ethnology gives you a nuanced understanding of culture and society, and how these shape our world.

Graduating in this programme shows an openness to ideas and perspectives other than your own, an essential attribute in many careers and a global marketplace.

Over the course of your four years with us, you will gain the practical and intellectual tools to handle and interpret traditional resources, modern media and digital data.

As our pre-honours years are very flexible, you will also gain intercultural competencies in other areas of the arts, humanities and social sciences.

One of the most attractive characteristics of this four-year programme is its flexibility.

In Years 1 and 2, your pre-honours years, you will choose option courses from a wide range of disciplines in addition to your core subject of Scottish Ethnology. You can, for example, take one or more languages, or explore other world cultures.

As well as broadening your education and skill set, this flexibility may allow you to change the focus of your programme in Years 3 and 4, your honours years.

Year 1

You will study courses on:

  • Conceptualising Scotland - an introduction to the study of culture, society and tradition in Scotland
  • Creating Scotland - an exploration of Scotland's topographical, social and cultural features and their influence on each other over time

In Conceptualising Scotland, you will deconstruct competing conceptions and images of the nation through:

  • heritage
  • literature
  • folklore
  • music and song
  • visual art
  • the popular media

You will also consider cultural representation’s political context, and the connections between culture and industry.

In Creating Scotland, you will gain an understanding of the diversity of Scotland's resources, the nature of its land and seascapes, the complexity of its settlement patterns, and its regional variety.

You will explore the ways in which experiences of family, community and work are manifested and expressed in different cultural forms. This involves training in appropriate academic sources and methods.

Option courses

You will complete your Year 1 studies with option courses chosen from a wide range offered by the University of Edinburgh.

You can, for example, opt to study Scottish Gaelic or a language from Europe, the Middle East or East Asia. We offer one of the widest ranges of languages of any UK university. The majority are suitable for complete beginners and include cultural study.

Other options include, but are not limited to, courses in:

  • linguistics and language sciences
  • Celtic civilisation
  • business, economics and informatics
  • politics, social policy and social anthropology
  • art and architectural history
  • history, classics and archaeology
  • philosophy, divinity and law

Year 2

You will study courses on:

  • Scotland and Orality - an ethnological approach to verbal expression using Scotland's rich song and oral narrative traditions
  • Visualising Scotland - a critical examination of the way Scotland has portrayed itself, and been portrayed by others, through visual media

In Scotland and Orality, you will be introduced to key concepts and theories relating to the performance and transmission of oral material. Case studies will involve songs, ballads, legends and folktales drawn from the School of Scottish Studies Archives.

In Visualising Scotland, you will develop a critical understanding of the contribution made by paintings, films, documentaries and other visual media to concepts like:

  • nationhood
  • identity
  • heritage
  • tradition
  • cultural difference

Option courses

As in Year 1, you will choose from a wide range of option courses.

You can opt to continue studying a subject you took in Year 1, or do something completely different.

Year 3

This is the first of your Honours years, when you will specialise in the aspects of Scottish Ethnology which interest you most by choosing from a range of courses.

Depending on staff research and other commitments, our options are usually the same in Years 3 and 4, which generally gives you more choice. They typically include:

  • Ethnological Fieldwork Methods
  • Traditional Narrative
  • Traditional Song
  • Scotland and Heritage
  • Traditional Drama

Year 4

This is the second of your Honours years, when you will continue to specialise in the aspects of Scottish Ethnology which interest you most.

Courses to choose from typically include:

  • Custom, Belief and Community
  • Scottish Emigrant Traditions
  • The Supernatural World
  • Material Culture in Scotland
  • Traditional Music

You will also complete a dissertation based on either fieldwork or archival work.

Programme structure

Find out more about the compulsory and optional courses in this degree programme.

To give you an idea of what you will study on this programme, we publish the latest available information. However, please note this may not be for your year of entry, but for a different academic year.

Programme structure (2023/24)

Our facilities

On campus

When you are on campus, you can expect to spend most of your time in the University of Edinburgh's Central Area - in class, in the library, in the archives, or in one of the University’s many social and support spaces.

The Central Area is located on the edge of Edinburgh's historic Old Town, surrounded by lots of green space.

Libraries and collections

One of the University's most notable collections is the School of Scottish Studies Archives, an extensive collection relating to the culture and tradition of Scotland.

The Archives contain thousands of hours of recordings of songs, music, stories, rhyme and verse in Scots, Gaelic and English, as well as in dialects now extinct. There are also photographs and rarely-seen historic documents which capture exceptional and everyday aspects of Scottish culture and heritage.

The Archive's extensive Scottish Studies Library holds important Scottish ethnological, wider ethnological and Celtic material. You will also have access to the University’s rare books and manuscripts, such as the:

  • Carmichael-Watson Collection
  • Donald MacKinnon Collection
  • David Laing Collection

Many of the University's Special Collections are digitised and available online from our excellent Resource Centre, computing labs and dedicated study spaces in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC).

Centres for research, teaching and outreach

We are home to the European Ethnological Research Centre, whose primary focus is the promotion of research into everyday life and society in Scotland. Ongoing since 2011, our Regional Ethnology of Scotland Project focuses on the role that individuals’ stories and memories play in shaping and understanding history.

We are currently working on Decoding Hidden Heritages, combining qualitative analysis with cutting-edge computational methodologies to decode, interpret and curate the hidden heritages of Gaelic traditional narrative. Leading a team of five international universities, we are funded by the UK–Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities programme.

Events and activities

The Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA) supports more than 300 student-led societies and clubs, and promotes opportunities with local charities through its volunteering centre.

An Comunn Ceilteach (The Highland Society) is the University’s oldest student society and organises the city’s largest annual cèilidh.

Passionate about music, literature, song and storytelling, we regularly hold events for staff, students and visiting guests to speak, perform or present research.

We also have a Traditional Artist and Gaelic Writer in Residence, a composer/musician and a writer who work with staff and students on a range of projects and performances.

In the city

Edinburgh is a world-leading festival city filled with cinemas, theatres, galleries, libraries and collections. Its resources for studying ethnology are exceptional.

Many national collections are located close to the University's Central Area, making them easy to access between classes. Highlights include the National Library, Museum, Records and Galleries of Scotland.

In addition to the summer and winter festivals, the city has a lively year-round contemporary cultural scene. From sessions in traditional bars, to events in the Scottish Poetry Library and Scottish Storytelling Centre, there is always something going on.

Study abroad

If international travel restrictions allow, you will have the opportunity to study abroad in Year 3 through the University's international exchange programme.

How will I learn?

University is a place to plan your own goals under expert guidance, study independently and in groups, and reflect upon your learning throughout your degree.

Our approach to learning and teaching is active, inclusive and question driven, so it may be different to your experiences at school. It will help you gain the skills for life after university, and we will guide you through the steps from one phase to the next.

Depending on the size of your year group, and which option courses you take, your classes will typically fall into three categories:

  • lectures
  • tutorials
  • seminars

As well as these classes, to get the most out of your courses, you will need to read widely.

We make extensive use of our audio and visual resources, and you will also be encouraged to use online materials.

Lectures

Lectures are taken by all students on a course, typically at the same time. They are delivered as interactive presentations which may involve audio-visual material.

Lectures are given by an experienced academic. They are designed to guide you through the background, questions and debates related to the topic you are studying.

Tutorials

Tutorial groups are smaller. They are also led by an academic, but here the emphasis is more on what you think about the topic yourself. So, tutorials are your chance to discuss and expand upon what you have learned in a lecture.

Seminars

Seminars blend features of lectures and tutorials. Again, they are designed to encourage and enable your active participation in learning.

On some courses, you will have seminars instead of lectures, especially in your honours years (Years 3 and 4).

Support

As well as the teaching and other staff you will meet day-to-day, there are lots of ways to get help with your learning, including through the University’s Institute for Academic Development (IAD).

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed through a combination of coursework and exams.

Coursework is generally completed throughout the year, while exams take place at the end of a teaching block.

Coursework may take a range of forms to give you the opportunity to practice different skills. For example, you may be asked to:

  • write an essay, review, blog post, opinion piece or learning journal
  • respond to a piece of writing, film, or other media, including through close reading
  • give a short talk or presentation
  • record a podcast or video
  • design a poster or presentation

In your final year, you will also complete a dissertation.

Skills and experience

Scottish Ethnology gives you a nuanced understanding of culture and society, and how these shape our world.

Graduating in this programme shows an openness to ideas and perspectives other than your own, an essential attribute in many careers and a global marketplace.

Additionally, completing a four-year Master of Arts degree at the University of Edinburgh shows intellectual maturity, resilience, and flexibility.

The skills you will be able to demonstrate to employers include the ability to:

  • understand, analyse and articulate complex issues and concepts
  • manage your time to meet deadlines on different types of project
  • work independently and as part of a group

Opportunities at home and away

The focus we place on comparative work, and on studying a range of subjects in your first two years, gives you the Intercultural Competence valued by employers around the globe.

Whether you stay in Scotland, or move elsewhere when you graduate, this degree will make you stand out.

Recent graduates have gone on to careers in:

  • education, outreach, advocacy and training
  • publishing, culture, heritage and the arts
  • journalism, broadcasting and media
  • politics, policy work, diplomacy, civil service and law
  • leisure, tourism and travel

Your transferable humanities skills and Intercultural Competence will also set you apart in sectors such as:

  • business, finance and commerce
  • communications, marketing, advertising and public relations
  • research, development and venture acceleration

Further study

The enhanced research skills that you develop on a four-year programme, particularly in your honours years, are valuable assets if you wish to continue studying at postgraduate level.

At the University of Edinburgh, we typically offer a one-year Masters by Research degree in Scottish Ethnology. This programme is a good stepping stone to a PhD, but is equally of value as a stand-alone qualification.

Interdisciplinary taught MSc programmes typically include:

  • Comparative Literature
  • Creative Writing
  • Playwriting
  • Film, Exhibition and Curation
  • Intermediality

There are also MSc programmes in history, social anthropology, and many other disciplines in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Careers advice

Throughout your time with us, we will encourage you to identify and hone your employability skills.

LLC has a dedicated Careers Consultant within the University's excellent Careers Service.

Through our careers service, you can:

  • book one-to-one appointments and practice interviews

    • access a range of online resources
    • attend themed fairs such as the Creative and Cultural Careers Festival

Popular peer support includes Life After LLC, a panel event where you can draw inspiration from our recent graduates.

Standard entry requirement

The standard entry requirement is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S5 or AABB/ABBBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 34 points with 655 at HL.

Minimum entry requirement

The minimum entry requirement for widening access applicants is:

  • SQA Highers: ABBB by end of S6. BBB must be achieved in one year of S4-S6.
  • A Levels: ABB.
  • IB: 34 points with 655 at HL.

More information for widening access applicants

Required subjects

The grades used to meet our entry requirements must include:

  • SQA: Highers: no specific Higher subjects required. National 5s: English at C.
  • A Levels: no specific A Level subjects required. GCSEs: English at C or 4.
  • IB: HL: no specific subjects required. SL: English at 5.

Find out more about entry requirements

International applicants

We welcome applications from students studying a wide range of international qualifications.

Entry requirements by country

International Foundation Programme

If you are an international student and your school qualifications are not accepted for direct entry to the University you may be eligible for admission to this degree programme through our International Foundation Programme.

International Foundation Programme

Mature applicants

We welcome applications from mature students and accept a range of qualifications.

Mature applicant qualifications

Regardless of your nationality or country of residence, you must demonstrate a level of English language competency at a level that will enable you to succeed in your studies.

SQA, GCSE and IB

For SQA, GCSE and IB students, unless a higher level is specified in the stated entry requirements, a pass is required in English at the following grades or higher:

  • SQA National 5 at C
  • GCSE at C or 4
  • Level 2 Certificate at C
  • IB Standard Level at 5 (English ab initio is not accepted for entry)

English language tests

We accept the following English language qualifications at the grades specified:

  • IELTS Academic: total 6.5 with at least 5.5 in each component.
  • TOEFL-iBT (including Home Edition): total 92 with at least 20 in each component. We do not accept TOEFL MyBest Score to meet our English language requirements.
  • C1 Advanced (CAE) / C2 Proficiency (CPE): total 176 with at least 162 in each component.
  • Trinity ISE: ISE II with distinctions in all four components.
  • PTE Academic: total 62 with at least 54 in each component.

(Revised 29 August 2023 to remove PTE Academic Online)

We also accept a wider range of international qualifications and tests.

Unless you are a national of a majority English speaking country, your English language qualification must be no more than three and a half years old from the start of the month in which the degree you are applying to study begins. If you are using an IELTS, PTE Academic, TOEFL or Trinity ISE test, it must be no more than two years old on the first of the month in which the degree begins, regardless of your nationality.

English language requirements

This information is part of a government initiative to enhance the material that higher education institutions provide about their degree programmes.

It is one of many sources of information which will enable you to make an informed decision on what and where to study.

Please note that some programmes do not have Discover Uni data available.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees for MA Scottish Ethnology

Additional costs

Your dissertation may involve some fieldwork, depending on your topic of study. This may mean paying for travel costs.

If you prefer, you can select an archives-based project that is unlikely to have any additional costs.

There may be additional costs if you choose to study abroad in Year 3.

Funding

For more information on how much it will cost to study with us and the financial support available see our fees and funding information.

Fees and funding