Taught MLitt

Taught MLitt

The Taught MLitt in Ethnology and Folklore is the only degree programme of its kind in the UK. Students gain a broad-based understanding of how the disciplines of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology have evolved and learn about the major genres of study, including music and song, folk narrative, custom and belief, material culture, childlore and games, sports and pastimes, and more. This is presented with an emphasis on culture and tradition in the Scottish context, but the skills gained allow students to apply their disciplinary knowledge to contexts outwith Scotland, as well.

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, 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 from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds – or people with relevant life experience – in the disciplines of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology;
  • is made up of four courses and a dissertation;
  • begins with a week-long Field School, with later trips possible in the second term;
  • offers the possibility of work placement during term time;
  • develops practical skills in recording and editing audio and video;
  • develops archival cataloguing skills;
  • develops presentation skills;
  • develops knowledge and experience in community engagement work;
  • 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, Genres, and Methodologies of Ethnology and Folklore

This course will introduce you to key elements in the study of Ethnology and Folklore. It is divided into three thematic strands: history and development of the disciplines, fieldwork and archival training, and customs and belief. Central issues such as reflexivity, identity, colonialism, and ethics are covered.

Throughout the term, lectures, seminars, and tutorials provide a broad-based understanding of how the study of Ethnology and Folklore evolved in response to research interests, community interactions, and broader societal 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 – that we address next term.

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’, ‘Concepts of Scottish Identity’, and ‘Advanced Fieldwork and Archiving’. The ‘Perspectives on Tradition’ strand of this course uses case studies to address, from a Scottish perspective, conceptual approaches and ways of thinking about culture. These follow on from the Course 1 seminars and show how the concepts of Ethnology and Folklore may be practically applied to contemporary society. ‘Concepts of Scottish 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. The radio package assignment will prepare students for editing audio materials into an aural essay. These three strands are complementary, building on each other to demonstrate the varied perspectives and skillsets necessary for Ethnology and Folklore research.

4. Intellectual and Practical Approaches to the Scottish Context

This course explores contemporary issues in Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology, most often within Scottish contexts. Students will note the wide variety of topics, including song, social movements, migration, film, dress and adornment, and others. The lectures in this course bring to focus the disciplinary underpinnings learned in the previous three courses and, through these wide-ranging intellectual approaches, give students a springboard for their own dissertation ambitions. Students will be introduced to three different methods of presenting research: ethnographic film, a twenty-minute conference-style presentation, and an ethnographic report. These practical and intellectual approaches are designed to complement the knowledge and skillsets gained throughout the programme.

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, fieldwork exercises, archive work sheets, a podcast project, a film project, ethnographic report, 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 Co-ordinator – Lecturer, 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 and guest performers from within the University, elsewhere in the UK, and abroad.