Scottish Life and Society: Oral Literature and Performance Culture

By Shoupe, Catherine A. | Western Folklore, Summer/Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Scottish Life and Society: Oral Literature and Performance Culture


Shoupe, Catherine A., Western Folklore


Scottish Life and Society: Oral Literature and Performance Culture. A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology, vol. 10. Edited by John Beech, Owen Hand, Mark A. MulheiTi, and Jeremy Weston. (Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd., in association with the European Ethnological Research Centre, 2007. Pp. xxii + 616, foreword, acknowledgments, introduction, photographs, illustrations, tables, musical notation, chapter notes, chapter bibliographies, list of abbreviations, glossary, index. $90.00 cloth.)

Series editor Alexander Fen ton describes this tenth in the fourteen-volume Compendium of Scottish Ethnology as "a presentation of the research that has been carried out thus far on oral, music, and performance traditions, which can serve as a basis for future work" (xvi). The thirty-two articles attest to the breadth of the multiple, often interweaving strands of traditional performance in Scotland, as well as its linguistic, regional, and social diversity. For the most part, the survey-of-scholarship goal is well met. Recognition of immigrants as contributors to die mix is lacking, however, and directions for "future work" are less clearly developed. A further goal, to "place the object of those studies in a wide Scottish, British, and European context" (3), is only partially achieved, although the Centre's perspective of grounding tradition in history as a necessity for analyzing the present is clearly evident. Most authors approach their reviews of ethnographic research chronologically and discuss the impact of nineteenthcentury economic and societal changes on oral culture. The deep and wide levels of literacy in Scotland are also noted, the interplay of orality and literacy understood as forming the warp and weft of traditions.

Part One, Narrative and Verse, begins with a masterful chapter by Fiona MacDonald - an extended bibliographic essay on Lowland and Gaelic narrative collection in the nineteenth century, past trends in folktale research and theory, and twentieth-century collection. John Shaw's chapter on the context and function of storytellers in Scotland draws on the ethnological perspective suggested by Ruth Finnegan (1977) and Hammersley and Atkinson (2007 [1983]). Three short surveys describe narrative in the Northern Isles, among Travellers, and overseas, separating these smaller or more distinctive traditions from the mainstream. Gaelic traditions are the subject of three fine chapters: John Macinnes examines hero tale and panegyric; Donald Meek surveys verse of the township, clearances, emigration, and the evangelical revival; and a short survey of modern legends identifies contemporary narratives that resonate with similar forms in Europe and the United States. The historical perspective returns with Domhnall Uilleam Stiubhart's "The Uses of Historical Traditions in Modern Gaelic." Another short chapter surveys storytelling and international folklore, covering some of the same ground as previous chapters but adding a new focus on women's role in tale traditions. One might wish that author Barbara Hillers had devoted her entire chapter to this topic. The section ends with a fine bibliographic essay by Fionnuala ('arson Williams on the scholarship and theoretical approaches of proverb study.

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