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Scotland is famed for its striking physical beauty and its turbulent history of human habitation. It is also a land whose people have long excelled in the arts of traditional singing and storytelling, as well as in various forms of instrumental music. The Scottish Voices Collection seeks to preserve these voices for future generations.
The collection derives chiefly from fieldwork undertaken in the 1980s and early 1990s by Professor John D. Niles while teaching at the University of California, Berkeley. The collection includes over 200 audio selections and over 50 video selections documenting the art of traditional singers, storytellers and musicians. In addition, over 350 photographs provide images of singers, storytellers, musicians, and speakers, as well as of regional festivals, local Highland Games, landscapes, wildlife, townscapes, and rural settlement patterns, thus casting light on the larger cultural ecology within which Scottish vernacular art forms have flourished.
Most of the recordings document the oral traditions of Scottish Travellers: members of an ethnic minority who, like the Romani of other parts of the Eurasian continent, have traditionally pursued a semi-nomadic way of life at the fringes of settled society, often despised or persecuted yet still the possessors of a treasure-trove of stories and songs that have helped them maintain their cultural identity over time.
Among the individual people of Scottish Traveller heritage whose voices are featured here, often in intimate domestic settings, is Duncan Williamson of Argyll and Fife, viewed by many as the finest storyteller of his generation. Among other featured singers or storytellers are Betsy Whyte of Angus and Perthshire, author of the pair of much-loved memoirs The Yellow on the Broom and Red Rowans and Wild Honey; Stanley Robertson of Aberdeen, a brilliant tradition-bearer and the author of several books of stories told in his colorful Traveller idiom; Lizzie Higgins, arguably the most outstanding vocalist of her generation in the Scots language tradition; Elizabeth Stewart of Aberdeenshire, a singer and instrumentalist with a vast repertory of songs from the North East of Scotland; Jane Turriff, an outstanding representative of the domestic singing traditions of Aberdeenshire; and Belle Stewart, matriarch of the celebrated Perthshire family of singers, storytellers, and pipers known as the Stewarts of Blair. The voices of non-Travellers too are featured here, among them Charlie Lamb of Dundee, a stellar singer of songs composed in his Scots regional dialect; Adam McNaughtan of Glasgow, one of Scotland’s leading singer-songwriters and a major figure on the Folk Revival scene; and Angus Henderson, a bilingual English- and Gaelic-speaking raconteur who for many years worked as a blacksmith in the town of Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull. Filling out the collection are recordings of skilled musicians performing pieces on fiddle, accordion, bagpipes, clarsach, hammered dulcimer, harmonica, tin whistle, and Jew’s harp. Among these is the stellar accordionist Calum MacLean of the town of Tobermory, Mull, where many interviews were conducted focusing on changes and continuities affecting life in the Inner Hebrides.
The Scottish Voices collection is intended as a complement to Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches, a much larger and more comprehensive web resource documenting Scotland’s rich oral heritage. That resource is maintained through a partnership of the School of Scottish Studies of the University of Edinburgh, The National Trust for Scotland, and the BBC. Included in Tobar an Dualchais are several dozen recordings that were recorded by Professor Niles in 1986 but that are not comprised in Scottish Voices.
The original audio and video recordings from which the present selections are excerpted are housed in the Archive of Folk Culture of the American Folklife Center, the Library of Congress, Washington DC.
Welcome to Scottish Voices! I hope you enjoy browsing the collection and making use of its contents as suits your aims and interests.
John D. Niles
Professor John D. Niles was the Frederic G. Cassidy Professor of Humanities in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin - Madison until his retirement in 2011. Niles had taught previously at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and, for two and a half decades, at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author or editor of some twenty books in his fields of expertise, among them Beowulf: The Poem and Its Tradition (1983); Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature (1999); and most recently Webspinner: Songs, Stories, and Reflections of Duncan Williamson, Scottish Traveller (2022). Many of the songs and stories included in Webspinner are available for listening via Scottish Voices.
The fieldwork on which the Scottish Voices collection is based was sponsored in part by the University of California Research Expeditions Program, through which a number of volunteers assisted Professor Niles in his fieldwork in the summers of 1986, 1988, and 1993. Additional funding was provided by the Committee on Research of the University of California, Berkeley, while special help in the field was provided in 1986 by Niles’s project assistant Holly Tannen. The work of mastering and digitizing Niles’s original field recordings was undertaken first by the Sound Archives of the University of California, Berkeley, and later by the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center. Among other members of the Center’s staff, Jesse Henderson, Steven Dast, and Karen Rattunde provided invaluable support and assistance. Kaitlin Fyfe, lecturer in film at Central Washington University, served as Niles’s project assistant in the project’s late stages.
This compilation (including design, introductory text, organization, and descriptive material) is copyrighted by University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents.
This copyright is independent of any copyright on specific items within the collection. Because the University of Wisconsin Libraries generally do not own the rights to materials in these collections, please consult copyright or ownership information provided with individual items.
Images, text, or other content downloaded from the collection may be freely used for non-profit educational and research purposes, or any other use falling within the purview of "Fair Use".
In all other cases, please consult the terms provided with the item, or contact the Libraries.