University of Glasgow: University Of Glasgow’s Scottish Literature Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

Scottish writers have been at the forefront of world literature for centuries producing global bestsellers, beloved characters and stories with mass appeal.

Scottish Literature has a rich heritage that continues right up to the present day as new contemporary writers have added to and contributed to the international success story and worldwide literary canon.

Scottish writing has also helped influence some of the greatest global writers to have ever put pen to paper. Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns has inspired intellectuals and artists as varied as Frederick Douglass and Bob Dylan. Other influential writers have included Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Muriel Spark. The mass global appeal has also led to Scottish writers being translated into dozens of languages including Chinese, Russian, French and Catalonian.

2022 is an opportune time to celebrate such achievements as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories. And yet to date Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow remains the only academic unit in the world dedicated entirely to the study of Scotland’s literary tradition.

In other universities, the work of Scotland’s writers tends to be taught as part of English Literature. At Glasgow, students can specialise entirely in Scottish Literature as distinct from, but related to, other literary traditions.

This academic year, Scottish Literature at Glasgow is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an in-person event at the Kelvin Hall this weekend. The event brings together students, staff, alumni, and the public to celebrate not only the faculty’s unique position and achievements but also highlight the works of Scottish writers from medieval times up to the present day.

Dr Ronnie Young, a Lecturer in Scottish Literature based at School of Critical Studies, who is helping co-ordinate the 50th anniversary celebrations, said: “Our 50th anniversary provides us with a unique opportunity to bring people together to celebrate what is distinctive about the subject. Scottish Literature deserves to be recognised as a world literature in its own right, and my predecessors and colleagues at Glasgow have done much to promote the subject as an autonomous area of research and teaching while also raising its international profile.”

Dr Pauline Mackay, current Head of Scottish Literature, based at School of Critical Studies said: “Scottish Literature at Glasgow is a centre for world-class scholarship, has consistently excellent reviews for its teaching and attracts major external research income. Our commitment to cutting-edge research and teaching, through the production of major publications and associated digital resources, the development of online courses, and work-based learning initiatives with our external collaborators, has ensured that the subject area is as vibrant as the literature upon which it is founded. We look forward to the next 50 years!”

Much has changed in the 50 years since Scottish Literature was established in the academic year 1971/72.

The department of Scottish Literature at Glasgow was established by the poet and academic Alexander Scott (1920-1989) and emerged out of the older department of Scottish History and Literature at Glasgow, founded 1913, where teaching tended to focus on history. In session 1971-72, Scott ushered in a literary curriculum as distinct from history which included works by Walter Scott and James Hogg, through to writers of the 20th-century ‘Scots literary Renaissance’ as well as contemporary poetry.

Although the literary texts brought in by Scott represented a significantly fresh perspective there were no women writers represented on the reading list for 1971-72.

A half-century later, by contrast, students study a range of women writers, including recent Makars Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay and Kathleen Jamie, as part of a wide-ranging curriculum that represents the rich diversity of Scottish literature and culture.

What was previously a relatively niche area is now a discipline with a growing international profile.

Scottish Literature at Glasgow has been at the centre of such transformations. It is the home of the renowned Centre for Robert Burns Studies, a leading research centre dedicated to Scotland’s national poet.

It also houses the Association for Scottish Literature, who have been instrumental in raising the profile of the subject, and it has played a key role in the setting up the International Association for the Study of Scottish Literatures, which runs the World Congress of Scottish Literatures every three years.

Although looking back at a long literary tradition that has roots in the medieval period, Scottish Literature at Glasgow has in its short history been a forward-thinking subject area. It is a pioneer in online learning, for example, and is now beginning to explore the potential of virtual reality for teaching through its partnership with immersive learning platform Edify.

UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW