I am a folklorist specializing in Scots and Gaelic song, along with custom and belief, and fieldwork methodology. Of particular interest is the relationship of traditional practices to the individual, the role of creativity in tradition, and in how singers acquire and adapt new and old material to their own circumstances.
As part of the James Madison Carpenter Project team, I have been working with cylinder and disc recordings of North-East singers made between 1929 and 1935, leading towards publication of a critical edition of the collection. The project has been funded by the British Academy and the National Endowment for the Humanities under the auspices of the American Folklore Society, and in association with the Library of Congress, Washington, DC (www.abdn.ac.uk/elphinstone/carpenter).
My postgraduate teaching includes Custom and Belief, Scots and Gaelic Song, along with Fieldwork and Archiving methodology. I have organized a number of conferences, including the 1999 and 2007 Kommission für Volksdichtung ballad conference.
In 1993, I established the North East Folklore Archive at Mintlaw, Aberdeenshire as part of my work as Traditional Music Resident for Banff and Buchan District Council (now Aberdeeenshire), 1993-1996. The archive has continued to develop under the direction of Gavin Sutherland and much of my fieldwork material is now available on the web at the Banff and Buchan Collection.
Current research includes:
- Scotland's fire festivals, particularly the burning of the Clavie in Burghead, Moray;
- creativity within traditional forms
- New England vernacular architecture;
- the effects of field collection in the North East;
- macaronic song traditions;
- the relationship of memory and song in west coast Gaelic communities.