• Margaret Mackay
Location:
Edinburgh
Date:
Thursday 17th June 2010
Reference:
SWI2010/019

Margaret:

Go back to the start, mm hmm. And probably the start of the School of Scottish Studies is a good place to start because the archive really came in to being from the very start and it’s good to know who the people were at the start. Well my name is Margaret Mackay, I’m Canadian. I was born in 1945 in Regina, Saskatchewan prairies. My mother’s people emigrated from Scotland, her mother was from Kingussie and her father was from a bit further north and east, just after the First World War and settled in Regina. So my mother was born in Scotland but went to Canada when she was just a tiny child. My father’s people, Mackays, had come from Sutherland in the early 1830s and settled with other people from that part of the Highlands in Western Ontario but many generations ago. I studied at the University of Toronto for my first degree, I studied English language and literature there with quite a lot of history and I got interested in historical linguistics as an undergraduate and thought it was something I’d like to pursue at postgraduate level. In those days, and I think still, Edinburgh University was the place to study this subject, so I was lucky enough to get a grant to come for a year in the first instance and then to continue on and do a doctorate here and it was really, I suppose, an interest in the history of language. I worked ultimately on my PhD on Medieval Scots, Lowland Scots, but it was that interest in language that brought me here initially, rather than anything really to do with family connections although it was very nice to have family links and indeed some relatives in Scotland. And when I finished my PhD I was fortunate enough to become research assistant on a series of linked projects to a man named Eric Cregeen who’d been appointed to the staff of the School of Scottish Studies in the late 60s. He was of Manx origin and his particular area of interest was social organisation and he and I worked together, with others, on a project to do with the island of Tiree in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries mainly, the outermost of the Inner Hebrides. It was a kind of testing ground for the introduction of crofting and we were looking at an island community through a period of quite considerable change and within that story there was emigration to Canada from Tiree and I also then worked kind of independently on a study of culture transfer and adaptation amongst Tiree people in Canada. So I gradually got drawn into the life and the work of the School of Scottish Studies and in the 1980s was appointed to a lectureship in the department and became director of its archives in the 1990s.

Simon:

Shall we go back to the origins of the school itself?

     

Margaret:

Well, the origins of the School of Scottish Studies make a very interesting story and it’s a story that takes us right back into the ethos, the atmosphere you might say, of Scotland and of Britain and indeed of Europe in the years immediately following the end of World War II. It was a conflict, of course, that had separated people very violently and in the course of it nationalists and nationalist culture and so on had been used and misused for a variety of purposes. There had been a lot of gulfs created between and amongst scholars and people with an interest in folklore and ethnology and I think it’s fair to say that at the end of the war there was a real feeling that those ties needed to be re-made and built upon. There was a real willingness to cooperate across what had previously been boundaries and, interestingly, there was also a keen interest in developing methods and technologies that had been used for wartime purposes for peaceful ones and for scholarly ones. And the man who really had the vision for the School of Scottish Studies, though he wouldn’t have claimed to have had it alone, was Professor Angus McIntosh. He was appointed to be the first holder of the Forbes Chair of English Language and General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh in 1948.

 

Now, he had Scottish ancestry as you can tell from his surname, although he was from the north east of England. He was a scholar of Medieval English really. He was a Medieval dialectologist but he worked in Bletchley on code breaking during the war, for part of the war, and he’d seen there how magnetic tape, for example, was used and he thought that really this should be harnessed for dialectology, and if for dialectology then why not for folklore studies too? And he’d also learned another lesson at Bletchley Park and he spoke to me about this, he was one of my PhD supervisors, and we did talk about these things. Something he’d seen at Bletchley Park was people from lots of different backgrounds but with a common purpose working together as a team, each of them working with a very particular focus on a small area, perhaps working in a very deep way, but cumulatively bringing together a major project. And it’s probably fair to say that in many disciplines anyway, maybe not all of them, but in many disciplines, until that time scholarship had been mainly thought of as an individual thing. You beavered away on your own particular topic and teamwork of that kind wasn’t perhaps particularly encouraged.

 

But he was appointed in 1948 and he came full of enthusiasm and was welcomed very enthusiastically too by the principal of the time, Principal Appleton, and other colleagues here and was really allowed to develop both phonetics and the linguistic dialectological side of things in concert with the original impetus to create a centre for collections of the kind we now have. He was encouraged to attract people from the university to work here. He was encouraged to acquire the most up to date equipment and people who could work on developing new forms of technology too, and he was also encouraged to see what other people in other countries were doing and this was very important for the School of Scottish Studies.

 

Angus McIntosh himself would say that a lot of his knowledge about Scottish folklore and folk life came from his friendship, very deep friendship, with a couple, John Lorne Campbell of Canna and his wife, Margaret Faye Shaw. He met them in the 1930s. He’d spent some time with them in Nova Scotia and had also encountered them in Barra where he had gone himself to learn Gaelic and the Campbells worked as independent scholars. They weren’t attached to any institution. They were able to work as collectors of Gaelic folklore particularly because of means at their disposal. They too were experimenting with new technologies but they felt very strongly that there should be an institution in Scotland that was devoted to collecting and to archiving but also studying and teaching and publishing aspects of Scotland’s cultural heritage. It was they who encouraged Angus McIntosh to visit the Irish Folklore Commission which had been created in the 1930s very much as an outcome of Irish independence. Language and lore were seen as very much important parts of Irish identity and McIntosh made a visit to Dublin, during which he met Professor James Hamilton Delargy, Seumas Delargy as he called him, who was the founder and director of the Commission, other members of Commission staff, and he saw how the Commission worked, the importance of being able to spend time on fieldwork with tradition bearers, as they were often called, people with inherited lore and personal experience to communicate. And it was through his contacts in Ireland that the other country and culture that came into play early on was involved and that was Sweden.

 

The Swedes had had quite an influence about what had happened in Ireland, what had come to happen in Ireland, and particularly the work done in creating cataloguing processes and indexing and so on of folklore and folk life material. It had been developed to quite a fine art in places like the archives in Uppsala and so, along with Professor Delargy, Professor Dag Strömbäck from Uppsala was drawn in as someone who could add weight to the pressure on the authorities here in Scotland to create what came to be the School of Scottish Studies.

 

The Carnegie Trust assisted at the time and Edinburgh University came to be the home for the school and in January 1951, and we date our birth from that year, work really began with a vengeance and it began in the person of Calum Maclean, a man who belonged to a remarkable family from the island of Raasay, off Skye. One of his brothers was Sorley Maclean the poet, the great Gaelic poet. And Dr Alasdair Maclean, a doctor in South Uist, a historian, a folklorist too, was another brother. A brother John, rector of Oban Academy and ... a family of real eminence in cultural terms in Scotland! Calum had studied here at the University of Edinburgh, studied Celtic, and then had gone to Dublin to further his Celtic Studies there but he’d come to the notice of Professor Delargy who saw in him a potential folklore collector and drew him into the work of the Irish Folklore Commission so Calum was trained there in collecting techniques. He collected, recorded, people in Ireland but very generously he was also encouraged to collect in Scotland because nothing of a systematic institutionally-led kind was going on at the time. And we were very fortunate in securing Calum Maclean as the first full-time collector for the School of Scottish Studies. That was very much through the generosity of Professor Delargy and the generosity of the Irish Folklore Institute because along with Calum came copies of the material he had collected in Scotland during that period so it was a lovely hansel, you might say, for the start of the school.

 

Now, almost immediately, Calum Maclean was dispatched to Sweden to study at first-hand the archiving techniques there and he studied Swedish, he went on fieldwork with Professor Strömbäck and also with Professor Campbell, a name that we also need to remember in the early days of the school. And then he came back to Scotland and began to undertake fieldwork under the direction of a committee that oversaw the work of the school in the first instance. And Calum Maclean, although he was from a Gaelic speaking background and well versed in the traditions of Gaeldom, but he also collected really from the Borders right up to Shetland and so there’s a great deal of very valuable material in Scots collected by him in the early stages. And he was joined fairly soon by others, some on contracts that involved working on particular projects, some contracted to undertake fieldwork or transcription and so on.

 

Frances Collinson who’d worked with John Lorne Campbell and was a specialist in instrumental music came to be involved in the school very early on and also another name that of course continued to be one very much associated with the school for many decades, Hamish Henderson. And Hamish, again, like Calum, brought very particular skills and experience and perspectives to his work. He’d grown up in, Perthshire born, near Blairgowrie into a household where song was valued very much. He learned to dance with an itinerant dancing master, ‘Dancie’ Reid, locally. And, again, pre-war and wartime experience played a great deal ... a great role in Hamish’s development as a fieldworker. He’d worked with the Quakers, for example, helping to bring Jewish children from Germany in the 1930s. He very early on developed a kind of international perspective. Then he was in North Africa as an intelligence officer during the war itself and subsequently in Italy, and his wartime experience, his encounters with people who were the enemy and in the parlance of the time, showed him that people really shared more than they had that divided them in terms of cultural values and so on, so he was collecting and he was writing poetry and songs and so on from that period.

 

Of course, we know Hamish not only as a wonderful collector of song and narrative and other aspects of our cultural heritage in Scotland but also as a poet and song maker and encourager of others’ work; active in humanitarian causes politically and writer and editor and so on. The school then developed very much from a basis in working with the people of Scotland in their own home milieu. The portable tape recorder allowed one to do that. You could record people at home or at their work or out of doors and so on. The early recorders of course weren’t all that portable to us today! (laughs) Now you can put your recording equipment in your pocket but still, this did enable people to undertake work that didn’t involve insuring rather formal studio conditions and so on for recording. So the sound recordings that date from the very beginning of the School of Scottish Studies are high quality. That was one of the very strong principles right from the very start. The tapes were kept, they weren’t re-used as did happen elsewhere for financial reasons normally.

 

So the archive dates from that period and the photographic archive too because people would be taking photographs themselves on fieldwork and as the work of the department diversified and more people came to be involved, then Material Culture for example and Custom and Belief, Place Names ... These subjects came to play their role in the building up of the collections here. The research library which is really a remarkable collection of materials today with not only Scotland’s cultural past and present, but that of many comparative cultures. That began, again, to be developed right from the start of the school with gifts, donations and then, as we began to produce publications like Scottish Studies for example from 1957 onwards, exchanges of journals and other publications and that now is a really remarkable rich collection of international materials, quite unrivalled really. And so those are the beginning features, I suppose, of the department, the emphasis on first-hand collecting, on grounding the collections in a comparative context, collaborating with colleagues elsewhere in other countries, on principles and techniques and approaches, theoretical approaches as well as practical ones, and so it very much played it’s role in that period which now we have to kind of imagine ourselves in sixty years back when things were really very different.

Simon:

Cathlin was showing me photos from the museum of some of the equipment from ...

     

Margaret:

Yes!

     

Simon:

It’s quite ... the wire recorders are quite small and there’s the disk recorders, which are hard to believe that something like that could record ...

     

Margaret:

I know, yes, I know. They were used quite a lot for linguistic dialect work. And of course you’d be using batteries for some of these. You’d be recording people who weren’t on the mains electricity so you’d need to take batteries with you, sometimes very heavy ones as well and perhaps lug them across ... We have accounts from some of our early fieldworkers of carrying this equipment over a moor to visit someone perhaps living in a remote location and so on. So it was physically demanding as well as mentally demanding. Fieldwork is very demanding work and it often, in the early days, would involve people going out on their own but people also did try and work together in pairs or slightly larger groups too and that was also a very good technique, have the company of your colleagues. You had to watch not to tire your interviewees out if you had more than one interviewer, but these were all techniques of fieldwork that people developed over time and that had very much at their core communication and interaction between one human being and another and those are principles that we still try to put into practice in our work now.

Simon:

One of the recordings that I’ve used was collected by Morag MacLeod who was one of the researchers. Could you tell me a bit more ...?

     

Margaret:

My colleague, Morag MacLeod, joined the staff of the School of Scottish Studies in 1962. She had completed a degree at the University of Edinburgh which involved a good deal of Celtic and Gaelic study and she was hired initially as a text transcriber, that is transcribing materials that had been collected in Gaelic by fieldworkers. She worked here for a year and then had a year doing teacher training but she returned to the school, fortunately for us, again in 1964 and then carried on working here until 2001 when she retired. She had one or two breaks on secondment elsewhere over the course of that. But Morag represents a type of scholar, Gaelic scholar, and Scots scholar, that the School of Scottish Studies attracted at the time. People who had undertaken academic study, had academic qualifications but also had a very important qualification gained by belonging to a community or to a family in which oral tradition had been valued and Morag herself came from a family where there was a great deal of song. She had siblings who are interested in song and good at singing and precenting, for example, in church and so on. Her mother was a very fine singer so Morag had learned songs in a family and in a local context. She knew about the processes of transmission and the means by which a song text and melody can be passed down from one generation to another, some of the dynamics to do with song, particularly song composition, as well as transmission. And so it wasn’t at all surprising that she should move from the work of text transcription into collecting and annotating collections and assisting others through teaching and through her writing and through tremendous assistance with the preparation of materials for some of our publications in Scottish Studies, later in Tocher, our archive publication, and also importantly in our Scottish Tradition recording series. That began in the period of the LP and then moved on to be a cassette series and is now a CD series published by Greentrax Recordings Ltd. Much of the scholarly work associated with the fieldwork collections with song and storytelling and so on has come to be widely disseminated through that kind of means, through CDs and what went before them. So the booklets that accompany these recordings are always just jam packed with very accurate and well-considered detail. And Morag worked with other colleagues of course, John MacInnes, Dr John MacInnes, expert on Gaelic song, Gaelic poetry, particularly. She worked with Dr Peter Cooke, the musicologist, and with people like the Reverend William Matheson who was on the staff of our Celtic department at the University of Edinburgh but was also a tremendous expert on song, as well as other topics, on family history and many other things, and also an important source of song. Again, he’d heard song from a very young age. He’d been in milieu where song was valued so he was a scholar of song as well as being an exponent of it.

Simon:

Just going through the index cards that Morag MacLeod’s written. Quite a lot of the entries in the index ... Was she quite a key person in building up contacts with informants and ...?

Margaret:

Oh yes, definitely. Morag’s from the island of Scalpay, Harris, and a good deal of her work was carried out amongst Harris people but certainly her fieldwork extended right round all of the Gaelic speaking areas of Scotland and she ... I think it’s fair to say that she was responsible for bringing people to light and encouraging singers. Some of them were people who were well known in their communities as having songs and being good singers but, you know, sometimes they were people who knew songs but perhaps hadn’t had the opportunity to sing them very much in public and she was, and still is because she’s still very active in song scholarship, through her own very attractive personality was able to draw people out in a way which enabled them to share a song with her and, as a result, with all of the people who use the collections here.

Simon:

I get the impression she seems to have a strong interest in, for want of a better term, non-professional singers and ...

     

Margaret:

Yes, yes.

     

Simon:

... and the song styles that were not mainstream.

     

Margaret:

Yes, that’s absolutely right and I would say that in being so that was quite a principle of the School of Scottish Studies in any case. That’s not to say that someone who’s a trained singer can’t be a finer exponent of traditional song but ... And we have examples in our own series. JCM Campbell, for example, in our Scottish Tradition series, a trained singer but with a wonderful repertoire of traditional music. But what you find with the kind of texture and depth and breadth of fieldwork is that there are singing styles that are distinctive from one community to another, perhaps from one island to another, tremendous forms of ornamentation, for example, in singing from Lewis, different kinds of characteristics perhaps in other areas and, of course, individual approaches to song and it’s transmission, and this is where building up a rapport with someone who is a tradition bearer and really collaborating with them in work of mutual interest bears fruit in a remarkable way and a very long lasting way.

Simon:

So people who were in the performance were also quite actively involved in shaping what would be recorded?

     

Margaret:

Well, certainly ... Yes because ideally a fieldworker would spend time with individuals, would discover what their own interests were, would be learning about the context in which they learned songs. Getting the background, not just focusing solely on texts or melodies but seeing the performer, the important role of the performer, in the performances as part of the story. Sometimes people would be used to singing, would be used to being called on, maybe just in a house ceilidh or a wedding or something of that kind, being used to being called on to sing, but sometimes people would know songs and would have quite a few songs that they’d perhaps learned when they were young but were not necessarily known as singers. And being able to bring that kind of information out is also quite a skill.

Simon:

From the records, it seems that people would be revisited over many years, several decades? I take it this was part of the practice ...?

     

Margaret:

Yes, yes. The first time you visit someone, perhaps the first time they’ve been recorded and the idea of recording and so on may be quite new, that person will very often remember things after you’ve gone away that the visit has prompted, has sparked off, so that a return visit very soon after the first one can often bear great fruit. And then of course it is interesting when one is thinking about subjects like memory and transmission, performances and so on, to see whether a singer will perform a song in a similar way regularly and so recording people over time, that goes for storytelling too, is doing those recordings ... And of course in fieldwork one builds up a rapport with people. You know, if one’s returning to their home district one would naturally call and so on. And sometimes of course the people we’ve recorded are making songs and you want to be au fait with what they have done. Or they’re learning songs too or remembering ones they’d forgotten but that are there somewhere in the recesses of memory so those repeated visits tell something about the human nature of what we do and the importance of friendship and ... in these encounters. And also of the value the people we’ve recorded from over these six decades have placed on their tradition and of the importance of ensuring that others learn and get to hear about it and can understand it and so on. You know, it’s a very generous process on the part of those who’ve contributed to the archive over the years. We wouldn’t have these wonderful collections if it wasn’t for that generosity.

Simon:

Did many people show interest in hearing the recordings of themselves?

     

Margaret:

Well, yes ... I think, as fieldworkers, we would ... even just for practical purposes of making sure your equipment was working and so on. Now you can test these things without playing back and so on but one would let people hear themselves and sometimes people would be quite surprised to hear what they sounded like. I think we’re all quite surprised when we hear recordings of our own voices. And, of course, given the passage of time, people now are so delighted when they can hear the voice of a grandparent or a great-grandparent or someone from their own community, whatever part of Scotland that is, who’s perhaps not alive in person any longer but who is alive in terms of their tradition, their voice.

Simon:

That brings us on to the kind of uses of the archive. So you just mentioned one there, family members and people interested in history from a local perspective. Obviously you have scholars that are ... What are the kinds of research that the recordings would be informative for?

     

Margaret:

Well, people come to consult the archive for a very wide number of reasons and these can range from local historians who are anxious to build up a picture of life in the past in a particular place or district, or people who might be interested in a craft or a building style, or a type of narrative, or a type of song who know they could find plenty of comparative material here, for example, or many examples of whatever it is they’re looking for from a particular place. Our collections of course are used by linguists, people who are interested in dialects and vocabulary and change in language over time and others who are specialists in particular genre of folklore will find the basis for scholarly articles or monographs or collections here, and have done that really from the start. I suppose I’m thinking in the main here about the sound collections, the recordings, but the photographic collections are used for a wide range of purposes, for illustrating publications and for use in film and for teaching purposes at all ages, from primary right up to University of the Third Age. And there are uses that arise, I suppose, with changes in society and so on to the ... The life review process is something that people working with the elderly, for example, are undertaking a great deal to encourage people who might feel that towards the end of their life they’re contribution is slight or perhaps not valued, to encourage them to value it and also other people to value it and often a photograph can be a trigger to this kind of process or a bit of a recording, maybe a children’s song or children’s game or rhyme, can be a trigger to memory that can often be quite positive for an older and perhaps isolated person. We find that our collections of children’s lore, since that’s cropped up ... and children’s games and so on are being used in quite a relevant fashion in the campaign against childhood obesity, encouraging activity and so on in the playground and after school and so on.

 

Scotland is now a multi-ethnic, multi-faith nation and there’s quite an important and binding capacity in oral narrative and in song and in custom and so on because so many of the themes in these are common to all cultures and so exploring them in the classroom, for example, with pupils from different backgrounds can be quite a positive experience for everybody. And we find that the students who come to study our degrees here in Scottish Ethnology, Scottish Studies, and elsewhere find themselves, by graduation, equipped to offer something quite significant to Scotland in terms of a knowledge of not simply Scottish culture but culture and culture transfer adaptation and so on too. And they’ve themselves gathered skills in interviewing and in indexing and transcribing and presenting material drawn from many different sources in a compelling form, so the education function of the collections is a very significant one and certainly underpins our present collaborative Tobar an Dualchais (Kist O’ Riches) project through which we’re digitising three major collections in Scotland, including our own, and providing finding aids and so on online to enable people to access this material from wherever they are. But the focus on returning to the communities from which it was ... or in which it was collected or in which there’s an interest, that’s really something we’ve been trying to do right from the very beginning but now, of course, new technology enables us to do that in a much more comprehensive fashion than has been possible before.

Simon:

Some of that’s touching on the next question, essentially how an archive acts as a form of representation because there’s many different facets to this as a way of ...

     

Margaret:

Yeah, yep.

     

Simon:

... but just on a practical level for someone who works on the archives, who does the indexes and who is immediately working with them ... that’s one form of representation ... and then there’s the kind of perspective of someone who’s studying it for a particular purpose, different types of ...

     

Margaret:

Needs and ...

     

Simon:

... that it fulfils and is drawn upon, in a way. If you’re doing say dialectology, how you might perceive the materials quite differently than if you’re studying narrative structure.

     

Margaret:

That’s right so how the material is generated is very important.

Simon:

Then on a broader level which you talked about when you started off is these wider cultural and political perspectives which we find ... (inaudible) ... has come into existence. So maybe if you could address that for me, how people ... When the department started up and the archive began, there was a very conscious awareness of some of those issues, why an archive came into existence. And did that shape the way in which the archive ... how people began to look at how they define what goes in, what goes out?

     

Margaret:

Yeah, I can say something about that if you like. (laughs) I referred a little earlier in our conversation to the features and impulses of the 1940s and 1950s, as far as technology and cooperation and teamwork and so on were concerned, and it’s also important to think about the kind of Scotland that we had at that time. People’s aspirations were changing quite a lot. People had had experiences, either at home or abroad, during the war which altered their life aspirations and so on so there were changes afoot within Scotland, certain demographic changes. The emphasis on the development of hydro power and coming of electricity to communities that hadn’t had it before ... Increased reliance on forms of media like radio and television and so on, altered the way in which people passed their time and that was bound to have an effect on aspects of transmission of features of oral culture. The influence on language from other forms of media too was seen. Of course that wasn’t a new thing at that time but perhaps we can say that the speed with which change was taking place was greater perhaps than in the past. And so it’s correct to say that in the early days of the School of Scottish Studies there was a feeling and quite a profound feeling that there were certain aspects of the way of life, in terms of material culture and social organisation and so on, that were changing radically. There were types of oral tradition that were not being heard as much so there was a kind of a sense of a rescue mission at the start.

 

There was also a feeling that, and this is evident from early on, that there were people whose voice had not really been heard in Scottish history or perhaps Scottish writing and so on in earlier periods but who had a rich culture and something very important to contribute to our knowledge of Scotland. Hamish Henderson’s work with the Scottish travellers, for example, and with agricultural workers comes into that category most certainly. Now travellers had been the source for ballad collectors and song collectors in Scotland from the eighteenth century onwards but very often in earlier collections they’re not really identified and sometimes not identified by name. We don’t know very much about their biographies and so on but the work of the School of Scottish Studies did enable people to know these tradition bearers as individuals and to recognise and to acclaim them for this knowledge. And so one can say, when looking at the collections from the early period, that there was perhaps an emphasis on rural life because rural life was certainly changing dramatically with ... Horses were going out and tractors were coming in, the number of people required to work on farms in agriculture and so on was changing, crofting life altering too ... But that doesn’t mean that industrial and urban life were neglected but certainly you would have the balance tipped towards the non-urban but we have some wonderful material collected in urban settings from that period too.

 

So one could say if one landed from Mars and visited the School of Scottish Studies, the impression of Scotland one might gain from the photographic archive and from the sound archive might differ from the reality that the totality of the Scottish population would feel at any particular time and I don’t think we’re at all alone in archival ... in the archival world in that regard. One cannot ever collect everything. I mean, a museum curator will tell you that as well as a folklorist, and so priorities would be set and collectors would be encouraged to collect either in regions that they knew or on topics that they were knowledgeable about. But in fact there was a good deal of collecting across the board really. If a fieldworker was located in a particular district for a period of time, he or she would enquire as to who were the people locally that should be visited and a range of material, including customs and beliefs and place name material and so on, might come from the body of one fieldworker’s work. Then, as the staff in the School of Scottish Studies increased, you would find more specialisation. Donald Archie MacDonald and Alan Bruford, for example, with their tremendous knowledge of narrative tradition and the genres of narrative and the way in which one can study narrative through looking at tale types and motifs and so on, built up the tales of the collection, both in oral recordings and also in an archive which includes what we hope will be every example of a tale published in Scotland or on Scottish material, as well as sound material. And indexes of songs according to first line and title as well as content and specialist indexes to do with instrumental music would also, over time, be developed.

 

But of course one is always dealing with individuals, with individual collectors and their interests. Some of these of course being very comprehensive ones, some of them more specialist. And that, of course, sets a certain defining principle of what you find then in an archive. One of the things that sets ethnologists apart from people who look at the past, like historians and linguists and geographers and sociologists and so on, and who also look at the present because the present is as of much interest to us as the past ... Many of the techniques and approaches we use are quite similar. We’ve borrowed from other disciplines and other disciplines borrow from us, but one of the things that does set ethnologists and folklorists apart is that they tend to be the creators of collections for other people to use, so they may be collecting because they have a research interest in a particular topic but they also have the potential for wider use also in mind. And then, as opportunities began to arise for funding from the national funding bodies, research projects would be established that would both attract material, perhaps on a range of topics, into the archive and would also be the material from which publications of very specific kinds could be created. And the project on which I worked, for example, with the late Eric Cregeen, the Tiree Project as we called it, a series of linked projects, was funded by the Social Science Research Council, then the Economic and Social Research Council, to undertake a depth study using oral tradition and subjecting oral tradition to certain types of critique in a community through a period of change and we were able to undertake this critique because the community chosen, and was chosen partly for this reason of course, also has been fairly well documented in the estate records that relate to it. So we were able to see where the oral record was accurate to a remarkable degree in terms of dating and that sort of thing when you have other kinds of evidence to compare it against. Historians have tended to be a bit wary of using oral sources but if you have means by which you can subject those oral sources to careful criticism then you really can use them and use them as the communities themselves have used them, as a constantly refining process of evidence collecting.

 

So the material from the Tiree Project, for example, is also in the archives. And in addition then as we moved from being, in the 1950s and through most of the 1960s, essentially a research institute and a collecting focus base with the archives very much at the heart. We then diversified, in the way that a university department would, into undergraduate teaching and postgraduate supervision. And from that point our students were also involved as collectors and as contributors to the archive, and that again brought new dimensions into the collections and the way in which they were collected and new topics. Many of our students themselves were from urban rather than rural backgrounds and using the good Swedish principle of digging where you stand, you know, they’d be encouraged to undertake collecting in their own family context or their own local context. And so that began to bring more urban material and industrial material and so on into the collections. And of course we’ve also been a focus for donations and important collections from the Scottish Working People’s History Trust, for example, and others have brought bodies of material with a particular focus on working lives and so on into the archives.

 

Right from the start the School of Scottish Studies was involved in what came to be called oral history. It wasn’t really called that in the 1950s, that was a term that came into use later. But the Scottish Oral History Group had it’s genesis in the School of Scottish Studies and so a good deal of oral history work was either generated from here and encouraged from here or has come to be available here, projects undertaken throughout the country. But we have to say that the representation of a nation or of a district or a region, the proper representation, really depends on as many sources and manifestations of evidence as possible and we would see our collections as feeding into a national repository of these visual and documentary and printed and film based and artefact based and so on ... But we certainly like to call ourselves or think of ourselves, and I think we can do this quite rightly, as the national oral library of Scotland really, in terms of the extent of the collections and their content.

Simon:

There’s two things I’d like to ... Partly you talked about the Tiree Project, critiquing the process itself, and you mentioned about checking against documentary evidence. So I’d quite like to hear a bit more about that in terms of who you also critique in the actual practice that yourselves as researchers follow? Were the community engaged and also critiquing what was being collected or ...

     

Margaret:

Yes, there were opportunities for that and in a way that has continued because ... Just let me think of a couple of good examples. I mentioned in connection with the Tiree Project that there were forms of evidence available to us of a consistent kind that are not available for all communities in Scotland, and in the case of Tiree, the island outermost of the Inner Hebrides, had belonged to the Argyll Estates, the Campbells of Argyll, as part of their estates from the third quarter of the seventeenth century. It’d been Campbell Maclean territory before that and Macdonald territory before that. But the Campbells of Argyll were good record keepers. They wanted to know what was happening on their estates and they had a system of factors and chamberlains and so on reporting to them, and so there’s quite a wealth of estate documentation about Tiree and about other areas in the Argyll Estates. But of course these records only contain material about certain things. They have to do with crops and stock and productivity and who’s paid his rent and who hasn’t. They don’t tell you very much really about the cultural life of the townships or about religious life or family life and so on. There are lots of big missing areas. And even in an island community like Tiree where the oral tradition is very rich and extensive, there are also topics and features which don’t appear. It’s pretty rare in oral tradition, especially when one is going back many generations, to get very specific dates for instance. Dating is very often given in a relative fashion: “Oh, that happened in the year the potato blight took place,” or: “That took place before the year of the winter of the yellow snow,” and so on. So as a folklorist using oral sources, you begin to detect what you can detect in other forms of narrative and storytelling, for example. You can see the tendency of a very forceful personality to almost act as a magnet to draw events and activities to himself or herself that perhaps took place over a sequence of periods but, you know, appear in the narrative to take place all at one time. But a trained folklorist can identify those in a way that a historian cannot because historians’ training is rather different. And so it was interesting, for example, to collect family stories and very often family history and ancillary narratives were a source for us.

 

Interesting to collect stories about the move of the population of a township at the back of one of the very few hills in Tiree because of sand, blowing sand. The soil in Tiree is very sandy, extensive machair land, and a very slight change in the prevailing wind can open the shores up to sand blow and this, over time, affects the arable land. So family histories gave us a certain amount of material about this and I, as one of my tasks in the context of this project, undertook to look at the parish registers of births and marriages ... deaths, although these weren’t really recorded systematically until the middle of the nineteenth century, but there were parish registers from earlier for births and marriages, and to just begin to plot these movements. You’d begin to see when there weren’t any more births in Hough, for example, and the people that you began to recognise from the oral records combined with the written records, you know, were turning up in adjacent townships and so on. But that’s the sort of thing that takes quite a lot of time and you really need to know the people, in a way. It sounds a bit of an exaggeration to say that but in an island where, as in Gaelic communities generally, people would be identified by a patronymic rather than a surname and so on. It really takes quite a lot of unravelling, and the use of the knowledge that comes from township historians to be able to detect exactly who is who at a particular time ... So we were able to undertake that kind of work.

 

Another important source for us was song. Tiree has a real reputation for locally composed Bàrdachd and has had that for many, many generations, and it’s still a feature in the island. And the work of bards, again, would introduce values and events, personalities and so on, that reflected very much contemporary issues, almost like a contemporary newspaper would do. And there’s one township in Tiree, the township of Balephiul, which earned for itself the nickname Baile Nam Bard, the township of the bards, because practically every household had someone who could make a song and people got to be a little wary of going to this township in case they put a foot wrong and someone composed a satire about them and so on. And indeed satires were composed! We still know them, the people are still known to us long after their deaths because of being encapsulated in one of these songs. And song also proved to be an important source for us in understanding not just the mores and so on of the community but, for example ... People very soon, especially when they learned I was from Canada, began to speak about Canada as being a destination for emigrants in the nineteenth century. In the main, contact had been lost with families who emigrated, not in all cases but ... So there was not very much precision about where the people had gone to in Canada and if you look at the records, census records and farm records and so on, in Canada, the documentary source doesn’t tell you very much either. It might tell you that someone was born in Scotland or maybe born on the ocean, born to an immigrant couple who were crossing over and so on. There isn’t very often a precise place name, township name or island name, for example, given. But I was very keen to discover where these Tiree people had gone and ... There were some clues, place names in songs composed in the nineteenth century and one of them was a song composed by a man who had emigrated to Manitoba. We knew he’d gone to Manitoba and he composed it on New Year’s Day, 1880, and he sent it as a letter to relatives in Canada and he also sent it as a letter to relatives in Ontario. And there’s a reference in this song to a cockerel, a Kincardine cockerel, who’d lost his virility and as a result of his shortcomings they didn’t have much poultry on the table. But Kincardine is a place name in Western Ontario and that gave me a place to start and I wrote to the editor of the local newspaper and just said I was interested in people from Tiree and wondered if readers of the newspaper had ... any of them had family connections with this island and the Hebrides and I’d be glad to hear from them if they did. This was a weekly newspaper and it took a little while for answers to come but when they started to come they came in quantity because that had been the focus for quite a major settlement in the middle of the nineteenth century but it wasn’t the first. There had been an earlier one and there was this later one with the focus on Manitoba, thousands of miles west. But as a result of that clue in a song I was able to actually start doing fieldwork in Canada and then build up a picture of this whole mass of emigration that started in the nineteenth century and went into the twentieth.

Simon:

The last thing I want to talk about. It’s quite a kind of broad feature of the archive but there’s a strong sort of self-reflexive aspect to it. Many of the people who’ve worked as collectors for the archive also come from the communities. What I’m saying is there seems to be this actual conscious principle that, to some extent, the archivist should have.

     

Margaret:

Yes.

     

Simon:

One thing I’ve noticed when I’ve been out to places like Lewis is that often, in certain areas, there are people there who have a conscious sense of archiving when it comes to the past. So this is where it comes on to what’s my last question, the way in which the archive feeds back into the culture. That’s, if you think of Hamish Henderson collecting but also writing ... The archive created culture. So there’s a kind of feedback ... (inaudible) ... and that’s a very interesting characteristic. Do you think ... is it special to the archive here or do you think it’s the nature and way in which the ethnographic archive has evolved over the past few decades?

     

Margaret:

Well, I think people have, in this archive, have had a very strong sense of responsibility in relation to people they’ve collected from, communities in which they’ve worked and so on. And that would extend, for example, to perhaps restricting access to material collected that an individual would not wish to have in the public domain, maybe references to witchcraft or to other sorts of things that might be best kept within very strict bounds and parameters, and that’s always respected. Over the years we’ve also returned bodies of material when local archives were set up. Material went to Shetland, it went to Ness in Lewis, for example, and to many other places. When an interest locally was expressed in having access, and of course that’s been an underlying principle in the Tobar an Dualchais project, this idea of returning material to where it was collected and where it was valued and so on, as well as making it available for a wide range of people with interests in Scotland. So that’s been an important principle, I would say, and then people in the localities have also been collectors, have been encouraged to make their own collections, either for us here or for local purposes and the encouragement that both our collectors and our academic staff and technical staff have given from the start to local projects and local archives and ... You know, the teaching of techniques and the encouragement to use particular proven approaches and so on has been part of our work. I’ve mentioned the Oral History Group in Scotland and how much it owes to the department. And so I think that sense of collaboration ... I certainly like to think that sense of collaboration is one that’s been recognised and approved of in communities as well. I daresay we could’ve done more of that sort of work if our resources had been greater, but I think that sense of continuity and responsibility has been very much a formative principle. And I think there are very few collections in the world that wouldn’t feel that but perhaps in a country like Scotland with a staff who, in the main, have had quite strong ... not everyone has but many of them have had strong local links. That didn’t of course prevent them, as I said in connection with Calum Maclean, didn’t prevent them from collecting languages that weren’t their first language or in areas that were new to them. And, of course, over time as people have been trained here from other places and other cultures and so on and have themselves taken up roles here, you find the links being of a different nature. But I think we’ve been very privileged in Scotland to be able to maintain that close affinity with communities and individuals and I hope we’ll be able to continue to do that.