Dr Thomas McKean

Dr Thomas McKean
PhD, University of Edinburgh (1993); BA, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH (1983)


Dr Thomas McKean
Dr Thomas McKean

Contact Details

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The University of Aberdeen The Elphinstone Institute MacRobert Building King's College Aberdeen AB24 5UA


I am a folklorist specializing in Scots and Gaelic song, along with custom and belief, and fieldwork methodology. Of particular interest is the relationship of traditional practices to the individual, the role of creativity in tradition, and in how singers acquire and adapt new and old material to their own circumstances.

As part of the James Madison Carpenter Project team, I have been working with cylinder and disc recordings of North-East singers made between 1929 and 1935, leading towards publication of a critical edition of the collection. The project has been funded by the British Academy and the National Endowment for the Humanities under the auspices of the American Folklore Society, and in association with the Library of Congress, Washington, DC (www.abdn.ac.uk/elphinstone/carpenter).

My postgraduate teaching includes Custom and Belief, Scots and Gaelic Song, along with Fieldwork and Archiving methodology. I have organized a number of conferences, including the 1999 and 2007 Kommission für Volksdichtung ballad conference.

In 1993, I established the North East Folklore Archive at Mintlaw, Aberdeenshire as part of my work as Traditional Music Resident for Banff and Buchan District Council (now Aberdeeenshire), 1993-1996. The archive has continued to develop under the direction of Gavin Sutherland and much of my fieldwork material is now available on the web at the Banff and Buchan Collection.


Current Research

Current research includes:

  • Scotland's fire festivals, particularly the burning of the Clavie in Burghead, Moray;
  • creativity within traditional forms
  • New England vernacular architecture;
  • the effects of field collection in the North East;
  • macaronic song traditions;
  • the relationship of memory and song in west coast Gaelic communities. 


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  • McKean, T 2018, 'That Night in Caperquin: The Agency of Memory in 'The Lass of Roch Royal'' Paper presented at 48th International Ballad Conference of the Kommission für Volksdichtung, Prague, Czech Republic, 31/08/18 - 4/09/18, .
  • McKean, T 2018, 'Building Boats, Building Social Resilience' Paper presented at American Folklore Society Annual Meeting 2014, Santa Fe, NM, United States, 5/11/14 - 8/11/14, .
  • McKean, T 2018, 'Oil Wives' Paper presented at American Folklore Society Annual Meeting 2016, Miami, United States, 19/10/16 - 23/10/16, .
  • McKean, T 2018, 'Old Hands + New Hands + Healthy Minds = Happy Men' Paper presented at American Folklore Society Annual Meeting 2018, Buffalo, NY, UNITED STATES, 17/10/18 - 21/10/18, .
  • McKean, T & Del Giudice, L (ed.) 2018, Street Music and Narrative Traditions. Suoni e Culture (Sounds and Culture) , Museo Internazionale delle Marionette, Palermo, Italy.
  • McKean, T 2018, 'Willie Mathieson and the Primary Audience for Traditional Song' SAKYTINĖS IR RAŠTO KULTŪROS SAMPYNOS, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 36-59.
  • McKean, T 2017, 'Born in a Bow Tent: An Ambiguous Symbol of Scottish Traveller Identity' Paper presented at Societé Internationale d'Ethnologie et de Folklore (SIEF) 13th Congress, Göttingen, Germany, 26/03/17 - 30/03/17, .
  • McKean, TA 2017, 'Singing Families of Aberdeenshire: Context, Structure and Meaning' Ritsumeikan Studies in Language and Culture, pp. 59-78.
  • McKean, TA 2015, 'Stories beyond the Text: Contextualizing Narratives and 'The Jolly Beggar'' Narrative Cultures, vol. 2, no. 2, 5, pp. 208-226). [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.13110/narrcult.2.2.0208
  • McKean, T 2014, Integrating Textures of Life and Song: Constructing Tradition through Narrated Association. in P Huttu-Hiltunen, F, K Lukin & E Stepanova (eds), Любовь деревенская vs. любовь городская: версия русских народных песен: Song and Emergent Poetics: Oral Traditions in Performance. Nord Print.
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