Dr Thomas McKean
PhD, University of Edinburgh (1993); AB, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH (1983)
I am a folklorist specializing in Scots and Gaelic song, along with custom and belief, community craft traditions and their relevance in today's world, and fieldwork methodology. Of particular interest is the relationship of traditional practices to the individual, the role of creativity in tradition, and how traditional skills can help build individual and community resilience in challenging times.
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).
Ongoing research with boatbuilding traditions looks at the idea of 'knowing by doing': how people young and old learn embodied craft skills by imitation, proximity, and osmosis, and how these skills enhance people's cultural confidence and self esteem.
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
- Craft traditions and knowing by doing
- 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.
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'In a Savage State' or 'Original Purity': The Fieldwork Legacy of James MacphersonJournal of American Folklore, vol. 114, no. 454, pp. 447-463Contributions to Journals: Articles
A Melodic Vocabulary for Ballad Singing in North East ScotlandBalada şi Studiile despra Baladă la Cumpăna dintre Secole / Ballad and Ballad Studies at the Turn of the Century. Constantinescu, N. (ed.). Editura Deliana, pp. 150-155Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters (Peer-Reviewed)
Satire and the Exchange of Song in an Isle of Skye CommunityNortheast Folklore. MacDougall, P., Taylor, D. (eds.). University of Maine Press and Maine Folklife Center, pp. 113-136Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters (Peer-Reviewed)
The Making of Child 306in Bridging the Cultural Divide: Our Common Ballad Heritage. Georg Olms Verlag, pp. 273-290Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters (Peer-Reviewed)
'You Make Me Dizzy Miss Lizzie': Elizabeth Stewart’s Up-tempo BalladsNorthern Scotland, pp. 103-15Contributions to Journals: Articles
Celtic music and the growth of the Feis movement in the Scottish HighlandsWestern Folklore, vol. 57, pp. 245-259Contributions to Journals: Articles
Gordon Easton and “The Beggarman” (Child 279/280)Ballads into Books: The Legacies of Francis James Child. Cheesman, T., Rieuwerts, S. (eds.). Peter Lang, pp. 237-248Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters (Peer-Reviewed)
Gordon Easton’s “The Friendly Ploughing Match at Tyrie”: A Song of Regional, Local and National IdentityVisions and Identities. Tungulist, pp. 101-113, 13 pagesChapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings: Chapters (Peer-Reviewed)
A Gaelic Songmaker's Response to an English-Speaking NationOral Tradition, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 3Contributions to Journals: Articles