Taught MLitt

Taught MLitt

The Taught MLitt in Ethnology and Folklore is the only degree programme of its kind in the UK. It aims to develop a broad-based understanding of how the disciplines of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology evolved, and offers an introduction to the major genres of study – including material culture, custom and belief, music and song, oral narrative, childlore and games, sports and pastimes – with special emphasis on culture and tradition in the Scottish context. 

Three people sitting around a table in classGraduates will gain knowledge of the concepts, practical skills, and methodologies of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology. While a number of graduates go on to, for example, careers in the public arts, museums, archives, and cultural tourism following their MLitt, the programme also provides a sound basis for further research at the doctoral level.

In addition to the four core taught courses, students complete a fieldwork-based dissertation, attend a week-long Field School at the beginning of the academic year, a further five-day trip in the spring term, take part in regular fieldwork exercises, and develop practical skills in archiving, and audio and video creation and editing.

The Taught MLitt in Ethnology and Folklore

  • trains graduates in the arts, humanities, and social sciences for advanced research in Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology;
  • includes a week-long Field School and a five-day trip in the spring term;
  • offers the possibility of internships during term time;
  • develops practical skills in recording and editing audio and video;
  • develops archival skills;
  • develops presentation skills;
  • can be taken full-time (12 months) or part-time (24 months);
  • can lead to a Master of Letters degree (MLitt) or a diploma;
  • and equips successful candidates with the knowledge and practical skills needed to embark on doctoral research, or to work in public arts, museums, archives, education, and other cultural fields.

The programme covers

  • the history and development of the disciplines of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology;
  • the major genres of language, ballad and song, dance, music, narrative, vernacular literature, vernacular medicine, custom and belief, and material culture;
  • contemporary issues such as reflexivity, digital folklore, the treatment of place and time, identity, ethics, and gender;
  • case studies involving the application of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology concepts to issues in contemporary society, including cultural change and stability, language change, emigration and immigration, and the 'invented Scot';
  • radio project and film project work;
  • and digital field recording, processing, and archiving.

Resources include

Course Titles and Descriptions

1. History, Core Genres, and Methodologies of Ethnology and Folklore

Divided into three thematic strands: history and development of the disciplines, fieldwork and archival training and practice, and customs and belief., this course introduces the student to key elements in the study of Ethnology and Folklore.

Central issues such as reflexivity, identity, ethics, and gender, are covered to give students an up-to-date picture of contemporary developments.

Throughout the term, lecture-seminars provide a broad-based understanding of how the study of Ethnology and Folklore has evolved in response to research interests and needs as well as national contexts. The literature surveyed will explore the history of the disciplines, how they have begun to converge in recent years, and their approaches to the core genres of study – language, ballad and song, dance, instrumental music, narrative, vernacular literature, vernacular medicine, custom and belief, and material culture.

2. Oral Traditions

This course examines many of the principal oral genres historically studied in the disciplines of Ethnology and Folklore. Genres considered include oral narrative (folktale, legend, myth, ‘minor’ genres, personal-experience narrative), song traditions (ballad, lyric, occupational, protest, Gaelic), music (pipes, clarsach, fiddle), dance, street literature, vernacular medicine, and place names.

Lecture-seminars survey the genres and subgenres of oral tradition through Scottish examples, working with the course reading to give students an understanding of historical and contemporary scholarship. Guest artists demonstrate these genres in class so that students can watch, listen, and experience tradition first-hand. Students not only study the history of these art forms, but also the contexts from which they have emerged and how they are carried on today.

3. Perspectives on Tradition, Identity, and Fieldwork

This course is divided into three strands: ‘Perspectives on Tradition’, ‘Perspectives on Identity’, and ‘Perspectives on Fieldwork’. These three strands come together to show how concepts from the disciplines of Ethnology and Folklore may be theoretically and practically applied to contemporary society.

The ‘Tradition’ strand addresses conceptual approaches and ways of thinking about culture. ‘Identity’ examines, through historical narrative, language, media, and cultural tourism, what it means to be Scottish and/or to live in Scotland today. The ‘Advanced Fieldwork and Archiving’ strand introduces students to a range of specialist fieldwork methods and the theory behind them, giving training and practice in their use. There will be training in library and archive research, interviewing techniques, audio and video recording, radio editing, and related ethical concerns.

4. Intellectual and Practical Approaches to the Scottish Context

This course explores contemporary issues in Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology from a Scottish perspective. Training includes audio and video recording, film-making, and conference-style presentations. Subjects covered include social function of song, the folk revival, contemporary legend, digital folklore, ethnographic film, dress and adornment, contemporary legend, immigrant narratives and emigrant traditions, and vernacular architecture. This wide variety of topics reflects the expansive interests of the disciplines, and helps students realise the extensive variety of topics available to them for their upcoming dissertation work. 

5. Dissertation

The MLitt dissertation is the final part of the degree programme. It is a substantial, fieldwork-based research dissertation of 20,000 words on a subject chosen by the student. The dissertation is designed to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the concepts of Ethnology and Folklore through an original fieldwork project designed and implemented by the student. 


Assessment for the Courses 1–4 is based on essays, field reports, archive work sheets, a radio project, a film project, and end-of-term examinations, along with class participation (Courses 1–4) . Assessment for Course 5 is based on the 20,000-word dissertation, processing of the archival materials generated, and on preparatory written and oral work.

Entry requirements

A good undergraduate degree, normally in the arts, humanities, or social sciences. No prior experience of the disciplines is required. Occasionally students without a degree but with extensive life experience and strong writing skills are accepted onto the programme.

MLitt staff and teaching responsibilities

Elphinstone Institute teaching staff 

  • Nicolas Le Bigre, MLitt Programme Director – Teaching Fellow, Archivist - narrative, fieldwork, cataloguing and archiving, digital folklore, immigrant experience,
  • Dr Thomas A. McKean, Elphinstone Institute Director – oral tradition, song and ballad, Gaelic tradition, methodology and ethics, transcription
  • Dr Frances Wilkins, Senior Lecturer in Ethnomusicology - Scottish instrumental tradition, song, ethics, reflexivity, fieldwork
  • Professor Ian Russell, Emeritus Professor - oral tradition, music, drama and speech

In addition to core staff, the MLitt features guest lecturers from within the University, elsewhere in the UK, and abroad.