Ian Russell took up the Directorship of the Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen on 1 September 1999 and was awarded a Personal Chair in 2011. His doctorate (1977) was based on the singing traditions of West Sheffield. In 2014 he relinquished the directorship, retired and was granted Emeritus status.
During the past forty-seven years, he has conducted extensive fieldwork in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire and has researched, broadcast, made films, lectured and written on folksong, traditional drama, folk dance, crafts and traditional humour at home, in Europe and the USA.
He was the editor of the Folk Music Journal from 1980 to 1993 and was awarded the Harold Coote Lake Research Medal by the Folklore Society in 1986 in recognition of this work. Since 1994 he has directed the highly successful biennial Festivals of Village Carols at Sheffield.
In July 1998, he convened the international conference at the University of Sheffield to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Folk Song Society, opened by the Rt Hon David Blunkett. He has written the entry 'Traditional Music: England' for the 2001 edition of New Grove and produced a CD of his field recordings for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, which has been published under the title English Village Carols.
In 1998, he was awarded the English Folk Dance and Song Society's Gold Badge, the Society's highest honour. His carol research, which includes over a thousand hours of field recordings and hundreds of manuscripts, is currently being organized into a major archive called Village Carols. Copies of the recordings have been placed in the British Library Sound Archive. There are currently eighteen Village Carols publications including books, CDs and five carol collections.
His fieldwork in North-East Scotland includes sacred singing, free-reed instrumentalists, singers, and monologue performers. He has been researching the flute bands that lead the Annual Walks in the coastal communities of the 'Knuckle'; the 'soirées' and 'Sankey nights' for sacred singing, and the concert parties that perform in rural contexts. Research in Boddam and Peterhead has been undertaken into the craft tradition of making and sailing 'boaties'. These are models of the 'fifie' fishing boats that hunted the shoals of herring in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Through the Institute he has directed and organized (with others), the annual Traditional Singing Weekends at Cullerlie, the North Atlantic Fiddle Conventions (2001, 2006, and 2010), the annual Traditional Storytelling Weekends at Woodend Barn, Banchory, and the Free Reed Convention: 'Button Boxes and Moothies' (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015). He has convened conferences for the British Forum for Ethnomusicology in Aberdeen (2004 and 2008), and for the European Seminar in Ethnomusicology (2011).
He is the President of the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention, Convener of the Aberdeen and North East Branch of the Saltire Society, a member of the editorial board of Folk Music Journal, a member of the executive committees of the Folklore Society and the European Seminar in Ethnomusicology, a board member of Scottish Culture and Traditions Association (Aberdeen), the Traditional Music Forum (Scotland), and H-Net Network on Folklore: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, as well as a member of several other professional societies and special interest groups.
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Taking Part in Music: Case Studies in EthnomusicologyAberdeen University Press, Aberdeen. 351 pagesBooks and Reports: Books
Folk SongScottish Traditional Literatures. Gilbert, S., Dunnigan, S. (eds.). Edinburgh University PressChapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters
The Derbyshire Book of Village CarolsVillage Carols, Sheffield. 250 pagesBooks and Reports: Books
Routes and Roots: Fiddle and Dance Studies from around the North Atlantic 4University of Aberdeen: Elphinstone Institute, Aberdeen. 241 pagesBooks and Reports: Books
Routes and RootsRoutes and roots. Russell, I., Goertzen, C. (eds.). University of Aberdeen: Elphinstone Institute, pp. 1-5, 5 pagesChapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters
Negotiating the Sacred and the Secular: Vernacular Performance in a North-East Scottish Coastal CommunityMusiké: International Journal of Ethnomusicological Studies, vol. 3, no. 5-6, pp. 165-180Contributions to Journals: Articles
Crossing Over: Fiddle and Dance Studies from around the North Atlantic 3University of Aberdeen: Elphinstone Institute, Aberdeen, United Kingdom. 317 pagesBooks and Reports: Books
Crossing overCrossing Over. Russell, I., Guigné, A. K. (eds.). University of Aberdeen: Elphinstone Institute, pp. 1-4, 4 pagesChapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters
Songs for the Bothy: Re-Creating Realities for a Fictive WorldFolklore Historian, vol. 27, pp. 27-50Contributions to Journals: Articles
Break Forth in Song!: Village Carols from the Blue Ball Inn, WorrallNon-textual Forms: Digital or Visual Products