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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Contributions to Journals


  • McKean, T. (2018). 'Willie Mathieson and the Primary Audience for Traditional Song'. SAKYTINĖS IR RAŠTO KULTŪROS SAMPYNOS, vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 36-59.
    [Link] http://www.llti.lt/failai/TD55_internetui-36-59.pdf
  • McKean, T. (2017). 'Singing Families of North-East Scotland: Function, Repertoire and Meaning'. Ritsumeikan Studies in Language and Culture.
  • McKean, T. (2016). 'Studying Folklore in Context: Ballads, Boats and Fire Festivals in the North of Scotland'. Gjurmime albanologjike.
  • 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. (2012). 'Stewardship and Evolving Fidelity in a Scottish Fire Festival'. Traditiones, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 23-36.
    [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.3986/Traditio2012410103
  • McKean, T. (2002). 'Equating Traditional Singers' Terms with Melodic Adaptation'. Acta Ethnographica Hungarica, vol. 47, no. 1-2, pp. 91-97.
  • McKean, T. (2001). ''In a Savage State' or 'Original Purity': The Fieldwork Legacy of James Macpherson'. Journal of American Folklore, vol. 114, no. 454, pp. 447-463.
    [Online] DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/542050
  • McKean, T. (1999). ''You Make Me Dizzy Miss Lizzie': Elizabeth Stewart’s Up-tempo Ballads'. Northern Scotland, pp. 103-15.
  • McKean, T. (1998). 'Celtic music and the growth of the Feis movement in the Scottish Highlands'. Western Folklore, vol. 57, pp. 245-259.
  • McKean, T. (1992). 'A Gaelic Songmaker's Response to an English-Speaking Nation'. Oral Tradition, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 3.
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