MLitt (University of Aberdeen)
I have had a lifelong interest in Scottish history and folk culture, and particularly in its musical traditions. As a traditional singer specialising in Scots songs and ballads, I was fortunate enough to become a cataloguer for the Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches digital heritage project in 2008, and I continue to work for the project part-time.
It was this experience, which involved cataloguing the Scots-language oral traditions contained in the ethnographic sound recordings made by the School of Scottish Studies, that prompted the creation of Local Voices Community Interest Company, which I co-founded in 2013 with fellow ethnologist and singer Steve Byrne. Local Voices works in schools across Lowland Scotland, using folklore sound recordings from archives such as the Kist o Riches to engage children in learning about their local cultural environment.
I completed an MLitt in Folklore & Ethnology at the Elphinstone Institute in 2018, with a dissertation looking at traditional song-making as folk creativity. I graduated with Distinction, and was also awarded the Ede and Ravenscroft Academic Prize for Excellence during my studies.
Following my Masters degree, I won a full Elphinstone Scholarship to pursue doctoral research at the Elphinstone Institute into the role of traditional arts in place-based education; this research is additionally supported by a stipend from the University's Development Trust. My PhD involves Local Voices as a research vehicle, placing our work in schools on a theoretical footing and developing a system of evaluation based on ethnographic fieldwork.
I am based in Edinburgh, where I live with my wife and two young daughters.
Traditional singing, ballads, song-making; oral history; contemporary legends; folklore as communication; applied ethnology.
The Role of Traditional Arts in Place-Based Education
My doctoral research looks the concept of 'place-based education' - a pedagogical approach which uses the natural and cultural environments as core resources for learning. In practice, a focus on outdoor learning tends to dominate in such approaches, and cultural considerations are often secondary, possibly due to the more complex and contested nature of culture and the difficulty this poses in designing a pedagogical model. Where culture is involved in place-based approaches, it is not necessarily the local culture of the participants which is actively engaged, as programmes often involve removing participants from their local areas e.g. taking inner city children into the Highlands and back again.
Building on previous work carried out through my own Community Interest Company, Local Voices, my research aims to investigate how local traditions of song and story can be deployed in educational settings, forming the basis of a cultural approach to place-based learning. In addition to carrying out case studies of existing programmes elsewhere, my research involves implementing workshops in communities in North East Scotland, and in schools in particular.
Just as outdoor learning approaches aim to nurture an awareness of and respect for nature, a cultural approach to place-based education aims to help people develop an active interest and involvement in their local culture. I am interested in the ways that local folk behaviour can contribute to social wellbeing, strengthen community resilience, and provide individuals with a healthy sense of place and local identity.
Dr Thomas McKean, Director, Elphinstone Insitute, The University of Aberdeen
Dr Frances Wilkins, Lecturer, Elphinstone Insitute, The University of Aberdeen