Wednesday, 30 October 2013

'The development of Gaelic language skills by adult learners’

Yesterday, the Centre was delighted to welcome Celtic & Gaelic's own Nicola Carty, who discussed 'The development of Gaelic language skills by adult learners'. Below is this listener's brief summary of the lecture.

Nicola's research is focused on second language acquisition, and is supported by Soillse (the national research network for the maintenance and revitalisation of Gaelic language and culture).

Nicola began by outlining the main theories of second language acquisition. She personally subscribes to the 'usage-based' theory, i.e. exposure and practice are key to fluency in a second language. Following this, she noted that recent research overwhelming suggests that learning based on form, structure and grammar is the most efficient way of studying a language.

Gaelic has been in decline since the 18th century, yet the 2011 Census suggested this decline was dramatically slowing thanks to the growth in young learners under the age of 20. More positive signs for the language include the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of 2001 (which affords Gaelic governmental investment and protection), the founding of the University of the Highlands and Islands (awarded University status in 2011), and the success of the media platform BBC Alba. In the National Plan for Gaelic (2012-17), acquisition is highlighted as the key area for reversing language decline, which clearly makes Nicola's research extremely relevant.While the growth in young learners is encouraging, the promotion of adult learners is also vitally important, as they purchase goods/services, may work in the Gaelic sector, and could raise families with Gaelic.

Nicola's main research question was: "What linguistic features are observable at different levels of communicative ability?". In order to answer this question, she interviewed 16 adult learners (9 women, 7 men) who had no exposure to Gaelic before the age of 18. Nicola measured their proficiency according to:


1) Percentage of complex utterances (more than one clause per sentence)
2) Lexical diversity (variety of vocabulary)
3) Mean length of clause


4) Average number of errors per sentence (AS unit)
5) Percentage of error free sentences


6) Phonation time ratio (when they 'had the floor', how long did they speak?)
7) Mean length of run (how long before pause?)
8) Average words per minute

Nicola had 5 non-professional Gaelic speakers rate the interviewees according to a rating scale she developed herself. The reason she did not employ language teachers was due to their tendency to focus on grammatical errors, rather than a basic ability to communicate.

Nicola's rating scale divided learners into 3 major groupings, with 2 sub-levels in each: Beginner (A1 or A2), Intermediate (B1 OR B2) and Advanced (C1 or C2). According to this scale, Nicola found that 6 of the interviewees were Beginners, 6 were Intermediates and 4 were Advanced learners. The Beginners could only manage 1 clause per sentence, half of their speech had errors, there was mid-clause hesitation, slow speech-rate and a recycling of words. Intermediates were notably more fluent (faster with less hesitation) but still made frequent errors. Advanced learners employed more '2 clause sentences', with less errors and an overall more natural speech pattern. Additionally, they employed far greater lexical diversity and used far more conjunctions.

In order to assess the possible reasons for these results, Nicola provided her group with a questionnaire on their learning background, preferred learning strategies and beliefs of learning. She found that those who self-evaluated and sought clarification had greater lexical diversity and employed more words per minute, while those who practiced with others were overall more accurate in their speech.

In terms of learning backgrounds, she found that Cùrsa Adhartais produced the overall best results, while Cùrsa Comais learners had a higher rate of words per minute, and Ùlpan learners were generally more accurate. She found that those with self-perceived ability in language learning generally performed better, suggesting that self-awareness in learning was a useful strategy. She suggested that tutors should encourage their pupils to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. The lack of uniformity and standardisation in language courses is both a blessing and a curse: the variety is ideal for adult learners but can make proficiency assessment and learning outcomes very difficult.

Concluding, Nicola rightly asserted that her rating scale had been proven valid and reliable; the study enjoyed 96% rater agreement. The data of her study would allow the scale to be expanded with specific descriptors of proficiency, an invaluable step in formulating further strategies on Gaelic learning in Scotland.

Below are some of the Gaelic language courses referenced in Nicola's lecture:

Cùrsa Comais:

Cùrsa Adhartais:


Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

Our seminar series will continue next week, 5 November, with Jackie Kemp's '1979: Scotland's First Constitutional Referendum'. This will be held in Room 202 of 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Centenary Lecture Series: 'Lord Provosts, Local Leadership and Glasgow's Changing History since the Nineteenth Century'

Yesterday, 24 October, the Centre was pleased to welcome Dr Irene Maver to conclude the Centenary Lecture Series which has been held at the Mitchell Library for the past year. Dr Maver discussed 'Lord Provosts, Local Leadership and Glasgow's Changing History since the Nineteenth Century'. Below is this listener's brief summary of the lecture.

While Dr Maver's lecture could not incorporate discussion of the post-1975 situation, she noted the relevance and timeliness of this topic for the forthcoming Independence Referendum. Debates rages even now about whether Scotland needs to be more, or less, centralised. A recent Herald article by Mark Smith courted controversy as it suggested Scotland's 32 Councils should be consolidated into 10 local authorities. He argued that Scotland had 'zero affinity' with their local councils and only foster a 'spurious sense of localism'. On the other side of this debate is Riddoch's, Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish, argues for more local government, claiming Scotland is the least represented country in local government in the developed world.

Certainly, in comparison to modern Scotland, local leadership was much more conspicuous in the preceeding centuries. Lord Provosts, generally wealthy merchants before 1833, exhibited 'localism with bells on'. They were visible figures who generated publicity--good and bad. Sometimes the garishness of the Provosts in Glasgow were lampooned by satirists due to their ostentatious trappings of office such as the gold chain. (Even now, Provosts wear the gold chain, which are one of the last links--literally--with the ceremonial identity of the office.) Nevertheless, the Glasgow Provosts seem comparatively frugal when matched up to their Edinburgh counterparts. In the early 19th century, a Glasgow Provost claimed £40 in expenses for the year, while in Edinburgh, the claim was for £1000!

The Victorian and Edwardian era is regarded as a golden age of local politics, and in post-1707 Scotland some claim it constituted the 'survival of [a] semi-independent' nation. Glasgow was regarded as a city state, with the 1896 Provost remarking it was 'equal to a modest kingdom'. A symbol of this civic virtue was the Loch Katrine project, which was trotted out by various subsequent Lord Provosts, and other politicians, as 'scourge of cholera' and cleansing unifier of the city. Every three years, the city councillors made a trip up to the Trossachs to signalise their favoured candidate for Provostry, using Katrine as a symbol of political purity.In contrast to this relatively positive image, there was controversy in this period, mainly centering around the high spending of Provosts which the people were expected to subsidise. Additionally, Lord Provost Chisholm was unpopular for his outspoken radical liberalism and ardent support of prohibition.

Since 1933, the Labour stranglehold over the Lord Provost's title has been tight indeed, with only two non-Labour represenatives, both from the Progressive Party (an odd mix of Liberalism and Conservatism, with no real singular identity). Only four women have been Lord Provost, and the first, Jean Roberts, was a real trailblazer. She staunchly maintained the masculine title of the 'Lord Provost', and happily attended all-male functions, such as Burns Suppers. She argued that one had to 'break the tradition to maintain the tradition', and this mix of continuity and change in the Provostry can be seen across the centuries.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

This lecture concludes the Centenary Lecture Series. Our weekly seminar series continues next week, 29 October, with Nicola Carty's 'The development of Gaelic language skills by adult learners'. This will be held in Room 202 of 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

'Learning to love the marquis: A family story from clearance-era Sutherland’

Yesterday, the Centre was pleased to welcome Professor Jim Hunter (University of the Highlands and Islands) who discussed ‘Learning to love the marquis: A family story from clearance-era Sutherland’. Below is this listener's brief summary of the lecture.

After an introduction by Dr Martin MacGregor, Prof. Hunter began his lecture by outlining his unashamedly narrative approach to the Sutherland clearances. As we shall see, this tactic was immensely fruitful. Quoting John Putnam Demos' The Unredeemed Captive, he stated that 'most of all I wanted to tell a story'. The majority of academic output on the Sutherland clearances has focused on the identity and character of the perpetrators, such as Patrick Sellar; the victims often remain anonymous. These victims need rescuing from the 'enormous condescension of posterity'.

On the 31 May 1821, a dozen men under the employ of the Marquis of Stafford, George Granville Leveson-Gower (remember that name!), came to Ascoilemore in Sutherland to evict Jessie Ross and her family. Jessie, twenty-seven, had two young daughters, the five-year old Elizabeth and three-year old Katherine, and a two-month old baby girl, Roberta. Ordered by sheriff officer Donald Bannerman to leave the premises, the unwell Jessie refused, which compelled one of the men, Stevenson, to force his way inside. Stevenson was almost certainly drunk, as the sheriff's party had consumed ten bottles of whisky the night previous and three that very morning. He roughly picked up the baby girl in one arm and the baby's wooden cradle in the other, and marched out of the house. On his way out, the baby's head struck the door frame, and she began crying in alarm and pain. Stevenson left her outside the house in her cradle, sheltered from the harsh wind by a dyke (wall). A nearby friend of Jessie's, Mary Murray, quietened the baby-girl by allowing her to suckle. Professor Hunter suggested that Stevenson's inebriation was motivated by guilt and shame, due to his close friendship with Jessie Ross, one of the few fellow English speakers in the area.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth, the five-year old, was struck in the face with a heavy plank by Stevenson, and the three-year old, Katherine, suffering from the potentially fatal 'whooping cough' was shivering throughout the ordeal. Three weeks later, she died, and Jessie's husband, Gordon, unavoidably absent during the eviction, argued that the 'inhumane treatment' of his family may well have caused her death.

This harrowing tale made clear the appalling conditions undergone by those evicted. In contrast to the typical image, the Ross family, as with many other families evicted, were not isolated, impoverished and in need of 'saving'. Gordon Ross was the local schoolmaster and enjoyed a higher than average income (£15 a year), and both he and Jessie were bilingual (Gaelic and English) speakers. 

Notified of their eviction in 1819, Gordon faced the prospect of losing both his home and his livelihood. He and his family were to be relocated to Helmsdale, a 'dumping place' for the recently evicted tenants of Sutherland. He lobbied for a teaching post at Helmsdale but was ultimately passed over in favour of a protege of the Marquis of Stafford. Six days before the eviction, he set off to Edinburgh in order to lobby the SSPCK for another teaching post. Knowing that he would not return in time, he arranged for a legally binding document that stated the Ross family would leave their home only when he returned. 

On the day, 31 May, the Ross family was initially spared, but the new beneficiary of their land, Gabriel Reid, demanded they be evicted like all the other tenants. In early July, Gordon Ross wrote a strongly worded letter to the Marquis of Stafford, sufficiently well-argued to compel Stafford to immediately return from a sojourn in Paris. Fearing a repeat of the bad publicity generated by Patrick Sellar's trial, the Marquis organised a show trial of Gordon Ross, arranged by his close associate James Loch. The entire machinery of justice in Sutherland at this time was a subsidiary of the Staffords. Bannerman, the sheriff officer in charge of the eviction, painted a rosy picture of the 31 May, claiming there was no violence, his men were entirely sober, the day was 'very hot' and the children were 'happily running about'. 

Some brave souls spoke in favour of the Gordon's case, like Jessie's maid, however, Loch brought in his own witnesses to portray Gordon as a poacher and noted subversive who aimed to oppose evictions by violence. Drawing a neat parallel to the futility of fighting state justice in George Orwell's 1984, Professor Hunter noted that Loch forced Gordon to recant his claims, after his wife Jessie stated his letter was 'nonsense'. This new version of events claimed the Ross family were shown the 'greatest care and kindness'. Professor Hunter pointed out that the bare minimum facts of the eviction left little room for this 'kindness'.

Later, Gordon Ross' health collapsed and he suffered some kind of breakdown: a churchman described him as 'insane'. However, before this breakdown, he fathered another son with Jessie--their first son, George, died in infancy before the eviction. Ominously, this second son was named George Granville Leveson-Gower Ross, after the name of the Marquis. Professor Hunter noted that Gordon Ross may not have loved his dictator like Winston Smith did by the climax 1984, he at least learned to show 'proper deference' to the Marquis of Stafford. This proved a sad denouement to a harrowing, yet completely compelling lecture.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher) 

Our seminar series continues next week, 29 October, with Nicola Carty's 'The development of Gaelic language skills by adult learners'. This will be held in Room 202 of 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

'Before Commonwealth: Early Imperial Scotland'

Yesterday, 15th October 2013, the Centre was pleased to welcome Dr Andrew MacKillop (University of Aberdeen) who discussed 'Before Commonwealth: Early Imperial Scotland'. This lecture continued the 'Scotland and the Commonwealth' mini-series convened by Dr Lizanne Henderson. Below is this listener's brief summary of the lecture.

Like Professor Finlay last week, Dr MacKillop stressed his talk focused on the pre-Commonwealth period, and Dr Henderson joked the seminar mini-series could be re-named 'Prelude to Commonwealth'!

Dr MacKillop began his lecture with an outline of the historiography of Scotland's role in the British Empire. In the last ten-to-fifteen years, the topic has completely transformed maintaining a high profile in research; a turnaround that looked very unlikely in the 1980s. Speaking widely, this re-engagement with Empire began as a multi-disciplinary process that explored fears of globalisation through the proxy of Empire.

However, the Scottish experience has diverged from this model, with a greater focus on the 'national' question, perhaps at the expense of this global question, as well as other themes like 'race' and 'gender'. Thus far, the study of Scotland in the Empire has attempted to reinforce or reformulate assumptions about the Scottish nation. Economics and magnate politics loom large in many of these studies, yet Dr MacKillop maintained a focus on cultural reactions to Empire throughout his presentation.

Conventional wisdom dictates that Scotland was an enthusiastic participant in the British Empire, perhaps the most fervent Imperial zealot of the British nations. The Empire was a point of consensus for all social backgrounds (whether a magnate, a Jacobite, or a dispossessed Gael) and took a defining place in cultural developments following 1707. In the 1720s, 40-50% of Scottish MPs had a direct Imperial connection, with around 30% linked to the East India Company. Proportionally, this completely outstrips England and Ireland (9% of English and 2% of Irish MPs had an Imperial profile).

The Statistical Account of Scotland shows enthusiasm lower down the social scale. A commentator from Moray in the Highlands claimed there was a 'constant succession of adventurers' seeking their fortune in the Empire. This idea was echoed by all the other shires in the 1790s. Scotland was 'at home' with the Empire.

Infamously, John Murray, 4th earl of Dunmore, built a house topped with a garish pineapple, blatantly intended to emphasise the wealth and fruitfulness of the Empire. In 1783, Sir Hector Munro employed his famished tenants to build a wholly incongruous recreation of The Gates of Negatpatnam, projecting a consciously Imperial image.

In direct contrast to this overt celebration of the Empire-which Dr MacKillop argued was actually 'atypical'-were the intense anxieties many Scots felt about incorporation with the Empire (and indeed the Union). Scots were not ideologically opposed to the principle of Empire-far from it!-yet they feared their small, increasingly de-populated country would be overwhelmed by the burden of Imperialism. Scotland would not be able to cope with the 'threatening flood of Asiatic luxury'. Exacerbating these fears was the anxiety about whether Scotland was a mere colony or province of England. Furthermore, the Imperial MPs, mentioned above, were viewed like Caesar or Pompey, i.e. out-of-touch statesmen who spent 'too long in the provinces'.

The response to these fears was an 'almost evangelical belief in improvement': rapid commercialism coupled with civic virtue. Imperial angst was assuaged by civic investment, and the wealth generated from the colonies was 'domesticated': converted into projects that embodied 'Scottishness'. Hector Munro, builder of the infamous Indian gates in Ross-shire as mentioned above, paid for the rebuilding of the tollbooth in Inverness, perhaps recognising his earlier project was frivolous in the extreme. Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin, built in 1818, and Edinburgh's 'Old College', built in 1787, were two other 'classical' buildings funded by Imperial wealth.

Dr MacKillop convincingly argued that the Empire was made to disappear into stone in the city, and was ploughed into the land in rural areas. Many returning Imperial governors invested their new wealth into their old landed estates. Despite the Imperial background of these new developments, they were made to look like 'authentic' Scotland. Essentially, the presence of the Empire was disguised.

Concluding, Dr MacKillop argued Scots felt a deep ambivalence about the Empire. The national response was 'culturally sensitive' effacement, which eventually led to a reconciliation with both the Union and the Empire. They began to see the benefits the Empire could offer. While the later post-1818 period has received far greater attention from historians, knowledge of the 18th century is absolutely vital to understanding the legacy of Scotland in the Empire.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

Our seminar series continues with Prof Jim Hunter's (University of the Highlands and Islands) ‘Learning to love the marquis: A family story from clearance-era Sutherland’. This will be held on Tuesday 22 Oct in Room 407 of the Boyd Orr Building at 5.30 pm. Please note the change of venue! All welcome.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

'Scotland's Forgotten Imperial Legacy: The War Against Islam in the Late Nineteenth Century'

Yesterday the Centre was pleased to welcome Professor Richard Finlay from the University of Strathclyde who discussed 'Scotland's Forgotten Imperial Legacy: The War Against Islam in the Late Nineteenth Century'. This presentation began the seminar mini-series 'Scotland and the Commonwealth', convened by Dr. Lizanne Henderson, which will run throughout the year. Below is this listener's brief summary of the lecture.

Professor Finlay's lecture focused on the activities of Scottish private companies in central and eastern Africa, as part of the Imperialist 'scramble' to capitalise on the supposedly massive commercial potential of the continent. Initially, the goal was to exploit this untapped wealth which necessitated the removal of slavery supported by the Islamic Africans (whom they called 'Arabs') already present in the region. Slavery was regarded as stymieing economic development. Yet as time wore on and the money failed to flow, the philanthropic side of the endeavour was increasingly emphasised.

During the 1870s, a time of economic depression, the desire to make Africa a new market--the last great continent to be opened up to commerce--was potent in Scotland (and Britain). However, foreign investment was regarded as potentially hazardous and timing was crucial. Go in too early and it was too risky. Wait too long and it would not be lucrative enough.

The African Lakes Company, set up in Glasgow in the late 19th century, was the main focus of Professor Finlay's discussion.Trusting in advanced technology to overawe their local rivals, the expensive and impressive steamboats of the Scots proved wholly impractical for small, acidic rivers of the area. The company was associated with the Free Church, yet any philanthropic motivations played second-fiddle to economic exploitation of Malawi and other regions in eastern Africa. 

They sought to deal only in 'legitimate trade', i.e. 'no booze or guns', however, the company became quickly embroiled in local rivalries which led to a sharp escalation in warfare. Massacres and other atrocities were apparently the norm during these conflicts, and were recounted with shocking frankness by some contemporaries. The Scots also employed child soldiers in these conflicts, and have the dubious distinction of being the first to employ European mercenaries in Africa. These wars were a significant drain on the resources of the Company and for the first 18 years it failed to turn a profit.

The association of the Free Church with the company lent a shred of legitimacy to these actions for contemporaries. The private war was framed as a necessary step in the abolition of slavery. A mad dash for money became a crusade against injustice; slavery had become a marketing tool. This precipitated a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment which had already been gaining momentum throughout this period. Ironically, for all the anti-slavery rhetoric of the Scots, they actually encouraged the growth of the foul practice due to their demand for lucrative ivory--it could only feasibly be transported in such large quantities by slaves. Despite the many horrors of this period, many of the stories emanating from the region sounded like 'plucky, boy's own adventures'.

Professor Finlay reflected that the Islamic element in Africa at this time has been largely ignored in history, in favour of a European VS European, or European VS Native African narrative.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

Our seminar series continues next week, Tuesday 15 October, with Dr. Andrew MacKillop (University of Aberdeen) 'Before the Commonwealth: Scotland as an Imperial Nation'. This seminar will continue the 'Scotland and the Commonwealth' mini-series convened by Dr. Lizanne Henderson. This will be held in Room 202 of 3 University Gardens. All welcome.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

'Hidden Detail? The Human Element in Visual Responses to the Highland Landscape, c.1750-1850'

Yesterday, 2 October 2013, the Centre was pleased to welcome Dr. Anne MacLeod, who began our weekly seminar series with 'Hidden Detail? The Human Element in Visual Responses to the Highland Landscape, c.1750-1850'. Below is this listener's brief summary of the lecture.

Dr. MacLeod based her lecture on her book, From An Antique Land: Visual Representations of the Highland and Islands 1700-1800. The aim of her presentation was to assess landscape paintings/prints to understand how the Highland people were perceived by the artists, and perhaps wider society. Some have argued that the people are overwhelmed by the landscape in these paintings, or ignored completely. The famous paintings by Horatio McCulloch have been accused of overlooking the human aspect and presenting an image of the Highlands in which human life and activity is almost entirely absent. Dr. MacLeod focused on three forms of employment: agriculture, fishing and cattle-droving.

Dr. MacLeod began her assessment by looking at mid-18th century military maps. William Roy's 'Military Survey of Scotland,1747-55', made in the wake of the '45 Jacobite Rebellion, goes to considerable lengths to represent the human element by depicting inhabited villages. This is in contrast to other military maps which generally just represent a network of military buildings. Matthew Stobie's 'Survey of Strollamus, Skye, 1766' follows Roy's approach by adding in incidental decoration of human activity such as people crossing the bay on small skiffs. However, the surrounding uninhabited landscape is presented as a white, featureless expanse, as if the villages were chipped from marble.

Moving onto the representation of agriculture in paintings, Dr. MacLeod noted that many examples from the 18th/19th century only featured the faint suggestion of past labour and never get close enough to actually see the people. Examples of this include extracts from Thomas Penannts A Tour of Scotland 1772, John Fleming's, 'Swan's Views of the Lakes of Scotland' and Thomas Oliphant's, 'View from Knockfarrel' of 1852. Many of William Daniell's paintings only feature humans in agricultural scenes as marks of scale in the picturesque landscape. McCulloch's paintings of Loch Maree and Loch Lomond from 1866/1861 are incredibly detailed but people can only be seen in the very far distance. Dr. MacLeod argued that this did not mean the people were being ignored, in fact, the opposite, as the painters went to the effort of incorporating them into the scene when they could easily have left them out. Nevertheless, they are clearly not the focus of the painting and often blend into the background.

Moving onto the depiction of fishing, Dr. MacLeod noted that this was the 'Highland job' most frequently painted; it was the ideal frame for the picturesque. James Barnet's View of Village of Stornoway of 1798 focuses on the development of the new port, yet does feature fishing boats in the foreground. The work of James Shore and Edmund Crawford often feature fishing scenes with castles in the background, providing a more eye-catching vista. The contrast between the romantic past as represented by the castles, and the new economic development of the Highlands as represented by fishing, could present a striking contrast.

Into the nineteenth century, cattle-droving became an increasingly common activity in these paints. The popularity of this motif may originate with Sir Walter Scott's 1827 short-story, 'The Two Drovers'. Some of the paintings of droving may be attempting to suggest the alleged indolence of the activity, as they feature some of the drovers apparently lazing around. Alternatively, this may simply have been part of the aesthetics of the scene. As time went on, the focus shifted away from the drovers and onto the actual cattle, as the Highland cattle became an increasingly romanticised visual shorthand of the Scottish Highlands.

Paintings of deer-stalking frequently presented the Highlander as a young, vigorous male perfectly at home in the rugged wild of the Highlands. This view was echoed by Queen Victoria who described her ghillie as having been 'moulded' by the landscape.

Dr. MacLeod concluded by arguing that the Highland people were not hidden, even if they were not always the focus of these paintings. The art often depicts the Highlander as adapting old new skills and learning new ones. In many ways, the shifting developments of pictorial representations of Highland employment act as an index of the perceptions of the painters.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

The Centre seminar series will continue next Tuesday 8 October with Professor Richard Finlay (University of Strathclyde) 'Scotland's Forgotten Imperial Legacy: The War Against Islam in the Late Nineteenth Century'. This will be held in Room 202 of 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. This presentation will open the seminar mini-series 'Scotland and the Commonwealth' which will run all year.

For the full schedule, visit our Facebook page:

Friday, 27 September 2013

Centenary Lecture Series: 'Robert Burns & The Rise of Scottish Studies'

Yesterday, 26th September 2013, the Centre was delighted to welcome Professor Gerard Carruthers who continued the Centenary Lecture Series, celebrating 100 years of the People's Chair for Scottish History and Literature at the University of Glasgow. Prof. Carruthers discussed 'Robert Burns & The Rise of Scottish Studies'. Below is this listener's brief summary of the lecture.

Professor Carruthers aimed to chart the rise of Scottish Studies at the University of Glasgow, while investigating its inextricable link with Robert Burns. For many years, Robert Burns was deemed 'unusable' in the wider project of Scottish Studies. Particularly following the publication of 'Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush', the 'couthy' parochialism of Burns was attacked, with fierce criticism from the Scottish literature Renaissance spearheaded by Hugh MacDiarmid in the 1920s.

The Scots culture found in Burns poetry was regarded as a subset of wider Britishness and even British Imperialism. In 1896, Lord Rosebery declared Burns the 'champion of democracy' and an individual who harbours 'the essential quality of man'. Rosebery goes on to pronounce that Burns' birthday is celebrated more 'universally than that of any human being', and his popularity is a testament to the endurance of the British Empire as a force for moral good. Professor Carruthers noted that a modern audience immediately notices the dissonance between being a 'champion of democracy' and a 'poster-boy' for the British Empire.

Hugh MacDiarmid, writing in 1923, reacted to the false romanticism of Burns by claiming the poet was only widely celebrated in 'non-literary circles', and even then a Burns Dinner was merely an excuse for frivolity, rather than a true celebration of Burns' talent. This viewpoint is linked to the idea that Burns was only of interest to amateurs or gentleman scholars, rather than academics. Professor Carruthers (fairly) described MacDiarmid's view as 'snobbish' and 'elitist', yet his viewpoint prevailed for much of that century and made the study of Burns in Scottish Studies anathema to many academics.

There was a turning point linked to the enduring popularity of Burns biographies. Among the most famous of these was written by John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854). Lockhart used the biography as a vehicle for his own conservative political views and he frequently criticises Burns' 'rash' and 'radical' politics. Unlike Sir Walter Scott, Burns was irrational and hot-headed, and very much 'not a gentleman'. This biography was a best-seller, until a new work was released in 1930, written by Catherine Carswell. Carsewell presents Burns as a Byron-esque dandy, and placed sex at the fore of Burns' life. Burns was oppressed by the Calvinist culture of Scotland and a censored victim of British brutality. Despite fierce criticism from left-wingers and sticklers for historical accuracy, Carswell's biography remained popular even until now. Professor Carruthers added that the popularity of this biography did contribute significantly to the increased 'usability' of Burns around this time.

In truth, the reality of Burns is not so black-and-white, and no one viewpoint can ever be considered 'definitive'. In recent years, academic study has returned nuance and subtlety to the study of Burns' life and work. Professor Carruthers was also keen to emphasise the international element of Burns' work: he was a poet of the wider Romantic period, not just a parochial bard. In terms of worldwide influence, his only possible rival is James Thompson.

Summary by Ross Crawford (PhD Researcher)

The Centenary Lecture Series will conclude on 24 October 2013 with Dr Irene Maver's 'Lord Provosts: Local Leadership and Glasgow's Changing History since the Nineteenth Century'. This will again be held at the Mitchell Library at 6pm.

The Centre's own weekly seminar series begins next week, 1 October, with Dr. Anne MacLeod's 'Hidden Detail? The human element in visual responses to the Highland landscape c.1750-1850'. This will be held in Room 202 of 3 University Gardens at 5.30pm. All welcome.