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New voices in Celtic at the University of Aberdeen


An international line-up of leading academics has been recruited by the University of Aberdeen in its drive to develop further as a centre of excellence in Celtic Studies.

The seven new appointees – one professor, two readers and four lecturers - bring with them a wide range of backgrounds and skills including the history, literature and older languages of the Celtic peoples, modern Gaelic, Irish and Welsh, minority rights and language planning and Gaelic-medium education.

The announcement marks 2004 as a year of enhanced commitment by the University to expand Celtic studies and, in doing so, to enhance provision in traditional Celtic Studies, strengthen capacity in modern Gaelic, and develop language planning and Gaelic-medium teacher training.

Professor Bryan MacGregor, Head of the College of Arts and Social Sciences, said “I am delighted in the quality and breadth of the new appointments. They show the University's commitment to Celtic Studies in general and to Gaelic in particular. They will allow us to maintain and develop our teaching and research in the traditional areas of Celtic Studies, while also expanding into language planning and developing our activities in Gaelic-medium teacher training.”

Traditional Celtic Studies will be developed by three of the appointments. Professor David Dumville, from the University of Cambridge, is a leading expert in the mediaeval history of the Celtic peoples in the British Isles . Bernhard Maier, from the University of Bonn in Germany, is an expert in Celtic Studies and the History of Religions. Clare Downham, from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, is a specialist in the interactions between the vikings and the Celtic peoples. Others among the new staff have research interests in modern Gaelic literature.

The University will develop teaching and research in language planning to address contemporary and policy-relevant issues.

This will be led by three of the new appointments: Rob Dunbar, formerly of the University of Glasgow, is a member of Bòrd na Gàidhlig; Michelle MacLeod was formerly the Language Planning Manager of Bòrd na Gàidhlig; Moray Watson, was formerly with Ionad Chaluim Chille in Islay and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. A new Centre for Language Planning will be established. An honorary professor has also been appointed in this area; Colin Williams, Professor of Welsh at Cardiff University is an internationally renowned expert on linguistic minorities and language planning and a member of the Welsh Language Board.

The School of Education already provides training for Gaelic-medium teachers and has established an innovative distance-learning version of its Postgraduate Certificate of Education Diploma (Primary Education). The appointment of Margaret MacIver, formerly the Education Office r for Comunn na Gàidhlig, will underpin these developments.

The College of Arts & Social Sciences is also making up to four new appointments across the College in Irish-Scottish Studies to work with its internationally famous Research Institute for Irish-Scottish Studies (RIISS). This will further enhance its activities in Celtic Studies and strengthen Irish-Scottish Studies as a core theme across the College.

Bòrd na Gàidhlig Chief Executive, Allan Campbell, said: “I congratulate the University of Aberdeen on its success in recruiting such a distinguished new team, and I am confident that this added strength within Celtic Studies will make a major contribution to Gaelic education and development. While the Bòrd is very sad to lose Dr Macleod from its staff, we wish her well in Aberdeen and thank her for her significant contribution to the Bòrd's work during her time with us. I believe that Michelle's skills are not being lost to us, but that they will now be focussed on Gaelic development from a slightly different perspective. Bòrd na Gàidhlig recognises that its own success will depend on strong and effective working partnerships, and it looks forward to the University of Aberdeen being one of these partners.”

Barbara Fennell, Head of School for Language and Literature, added: “I am delighted to be welcoming such a talented group of Celticists to Aberdeen and look forward to working with them to reinforce Aberdeen 's traditional strength in Celtic Studies and develop exciting new courses that will inform cultural and social policy.”

Lewis Macdonald MSP, who represents Aberdeen Central and hails originally from the Western Isles, said: “ Aberdeen University is doing the right thing at the right time, by putting in place a strong team for Gaelic and Celtic Studies before the Gaelic Language Bill comes up in the Scottish Parliament. I have no doubt they will have a positive influence on policy."


Notes for Editors:

Professor Bryan MacGregor, Head of the College of Arts and Social Sciences, is available for interview today (Friday, September 17). Please contact Jenni Massie, Communications Office r, on (01224) 272013, or 07776 473 429, to arrange.

More background on new staff

David Dumville (Professor): David Dumville was Professor of Palaeography and Cultural History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Girton College. His interests include insular Celtic palaeography and codicology, the history of the Insular Celtic peoples and mediaeval Irish and Welsh literature. He will be based in History in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy and will contribute to the degree programmes in Celtic Studies and Celtic Civilization.

Robert Dunbar (Reader): Robert Dunbar was formerly a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Glasgow . Originally from Ontario, Canada, he previously practised law in Toronto . He has published widely on language issues in leading journals in the UK and Europe . He is a member of Bòrd na Gàidhlig and of Seirbhis nam Meadhanan Gàidhlig. He will be based 50% in Celtic Studies in the School of Language and Literature and 50% in the School of Law .

Bernhard Maier (Reader): Dr Bernhard Maier comes to Aberdeen from Germany . His studies have taken him to Freiburg, Aberystwyth, Bonn, and London . The University of Bonn, where Dr Maier gained his Masters and two Doctoral degrees, recently awarded him the title of ‘Ausserplanmassiger Professor'. Dr Maier's main fields of study and research are in Celtic studies, comparative linguistics and the Comparative Study of Religions, in all of which he is widely published. With German as his first language, Dr Maier is also a fluent speaker, reader, and writer in Irish, Welsh, English and French - while he has reading knowledge of Scottish Gaelic, Breton, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

Clare Downham (Lecturer): Dr Clare Downham joins the University's Celtic Department, after spending the last two years as a Research Scholar at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, within the School of Celtic Studies . She previously taught in North America and at Cambridge . A St Andrews graduate in Mediaeval History, she gained her PhD from Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge in 2003. Dr Downham is a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, the Society for Mediaeval Archaeology, and the Viking Society for Northern Research. She was the Advisory Editor for Celtic for the Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity . Since 2002, Dr Downham has been working on a book entitled ‘ Vikings in Ireland '.

Margaret MacIver (Lecturer) : Margaret MacIver was formerly the Education Office r for Comunn na Gàidhlig, is a qualified schoolteacher and has played a major role in the development of Gaelic-medium education.

Originally from the Isle of Lewis, she had previously been Gaelic Development Office r with the then Highlands & Islands Development Board (Highlands & Islands Enterprise). On graduating in Celtic Studies from the University of Aberdeen she initially became a secondary schoolteacher. Later in her career she wrote and produced the Gaelic teacher recruitment materials – Thig a Theagaisg (booklet and video). Margaret MacIver will be based 50% in Celtic Studies in the School of Language and Literature and 50% in the School of Education .

Michelle MacLeod (Lecturer): Dr Michelle Christina MacLeod is a fluent Gaelic and Irish speaker and will join the University's Celtic Department after spending almost a year with Bòrd na Gàidhlig as Language Planning Manager. Dr MacLeod has a wealth of academic knowledge regarding the Gaelic language, as well as having the added benefit of first-hand experience with its community. For three years, she was the Project Office r/Centre Manager, and Head of Studies/Director at Ionad Chaluim Chille, Ile (The Columba Centre, Islay ). She graduated from the University of Aberdeen with a first-class honours degree in Gaelic Studies and subsequently gained her PhD in 1999. Her research interests focus on the modern Gaelic community and she explores this in a number of ways, including through literature, drama, and through the issues of current language usage and planning.

Moray Watson: Dr Moray Watson was formerly a Facilitator/Content Editor with Gàidhlig air-loidhne (Gaelic Online), a project providing an interactive online environment to support Gaelic educators throughout Scotland . An Aberdeen graduate, he holds an MA (Celtic-English), an MLitt, and a PhD awarded for his dissertation on Iain Crichton Smith ( Iain Crichton Smith's Perception, Comparing the Writer's Gaelic and English Work ). Dr Watson also lectured at the National University of Ireland, and has worked as a distance-course tutor with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. At Ionad Chaluim Chille, Ile, he was the main lecturer on the UHI BA degree in Gaelic language and culture (delivered through the medium of Gaelic). Dr Watson speaks Gaelic, Irish, and Welsh – and maintains an active interest in a broad range of classical and modern languages.

Gaelic medium education at Aberdeen

Provision for Gaelic-medium education is supported by the University's School of Education . The School currently offers an honours degree (B Ed) and the Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE Primary /PGCE Secondary) as full time courses for those wishing to teach in the Gaelic medium. In September 2003 the School, in partnership with the Highland Council, launched an innovative part-time PGCE (Primary) programme by distance learning.

Background to Celtic Studies at Aberdeen

The Department of Celtic is in the School of Language and Literature, which is one of six Schools in the College of Arts and Social Sciences. The degrees offered are: Celtic Studies, Celtic Civilisation, and Gaelic Studies.

Since the Department of Celtic was founded in 1916, many distinguished figures in the world of Celtic Studies have taken their degrees at the University, including Professors Derick Thomson and Donald MacAulay. As well as being prominent Celtic scholars, they are important Gaelic poets, as are our more recent graduates Meg Bateman, Màiri Nic Gumaraid and Rody Gorman.

In 1926 the Department began publishing Scottish Gaelic Studies, which still runs today as the only academic journal of Celtic Studies in Scotland . The Chair of Celtic Studies at the University of Aberdeen was established in 1992 and the leading Gaelic scholar and writer, Donald Meek, became its first incumbent in 1993.

Professor Meek subsequently led the Ministerial Advisory Group on Gaelic which delivered the pivotal Fresh Start for Gaelic report. Now with the University of Edinburgh, Professor Meek is the current Chairman of the Gaelic Books Council.

The 2001 Census recorded 65,674 people aged three or over as being able to speak, read, or write Gaelic. This is 1.3 per cent of the Scottish population. The number of people aged two or over who could speak, read, write or understand Gaelic was recorded for the first time and found to be 92,396, or 1.9 per cent of the population. The largest concentrations of Gaelic speakers are found in Na h-Eileanan an Iar (the Western Isles), the Highlands, and Argyll. The remaining speakers are spread across the country with the largest single concentration in Glasgow .

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen .

Contact: Jenni Massie Tel: 01224 272013.


Ref: 1460newvoicesinceltic
Date: 17 September, 2004