Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology

Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology


Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology are disciplines built on the study of culture in context.

Ethnologists, folklorists, and ethnomusicologists use ethnographic fieldwork to consider how identity is shaped, maintained, transmitted, and adapted. We analyse the social, political, economic, and psychological forces that construct our humanity in its widest sense—from narrating everyday life to customs and oral traditions, from beliefs to musical and artistic production, from foodways to interactions with the environment.

We investigate how the practices and traditions of a community, region, or country relate to contemporary issues of identity and community, and how these ideas are enacted in everyday life.

Study Information

At a Glance

Degree Qualification
MRes or PhD

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The Elphinstone Institute offers a unique approach to MRes and PhD research, developing a broad-based understanding of the disciplines of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology. Dissertation topics have included material culture, custom and belief, music and song, oral narrative, childlore and games, sports and pastimes, Scots language – with special emphasis on culture and tradition in the Scottish and Scottish diasporic context.

Graduates will be versed in the concepts, practical skills, and methodologies of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology. Graduates go on to, for example, careers in the public arts, museums, archives, cultural tourism, music performance and teaching, and academia.

Dissertations are fieldwork-based and include the development of practical skills in interviewing, fieldnote taking, audio recording, videography and audio/video editing, photography, cataloging and archiving. Rigorous training is also provided in fieldwork ethics and responsibilities.

Both academic and public engagement is encouraged throughout the research programme and students have, in addition to their written dissertations, produced public exhibitions, ethnographic films, podcasts and websites to raise awareness of their academic research.

For more information, contact Dr Thomas A. McKean, Director, For general enquiries, contact Alison Sharman, Administrator.

Our Research

Ongoing Institute research is centered on the analysis of vernacular cultural practice in the North and North-East of Scotland, though it also reaches out to cognate cultures across Europe and North America. Using collaborative ethnography and drawing on European and North American traditions of scholarship in Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology, we aim to explore the meanings and functions of narrative, custom and belief, vernacular performance traditions, music and song, and occupational lore in everyday life.

The Institute’s research strengths include music, ballad and song (Scots and Gaelic), custom and belief, craft skills, vernacular immigrant narrative, vernacular medicine, Scottish Traveller traditions, and vernacular performance, though our range is wide and diverse. View a selection of completed dissertation topics. Staff and students research, write, and publish in a diverse array of subjects and geographic areas, publishing in refereed journals and in monograph form.

All of our students, from Taught MLitt to PhD, undertake original field research, which is added to the Elphinstone Institute Archives. The archives will serve as a resource for scholars around the world with the launch of our new database currently under development.

Current research initiatives can be found on the Elphinstone Institute website. These include:

1. The AHRC funded Carpenter Folk Online, led by Dr Thomas McKean and others, which aims to digitise the James Madison Carpenter Collection, containing over 3000 British and American traditional songs and 250 folk (mummers') plays.

2. A Critical Edition of the James Madison Carpenter Collection, led by Dr Thomas McKean and others, funded by the British Academy, Marc Fitch Fund, Royal Society of Edinburgh, and National Endowment for the Humanities (under the auspices of the American Folklore Society). The aim of the project is to publish the J. M. Carpenter collection materials in a critical edition, for an audience of researchers, performers, and general readers.

3. Seinn Spioradail Anns a’ Ghaidhealtachd an Iar agus ‘sna h-Eileanan Siar / Spiritual Singing in the West Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland (2018-2024), funded by The British Academy and The Carnegie Trust and led by Frances Wilkins.

4. Fiddle-Dancing in James Bay, Canada, led by Frances Wilkins and funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK and Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. The project is an ethnographic study of the indigenisation and re-interpretation of Scottish fiddle music and associated dances among the James Bay Cree in Northern Ontario and Quebec. (2011-present).

Research Interests

  • Song and Ballad
  • Music of the North
  • Psalmody and Sacred Singing
  • Immigrant Narrative
  • Lockdown Lore
  • Craft Traditions
  • Calendar Custom
  • Dress and Adornment
  • Identity
  • Community
  • Vernacular Religion
  • Fiddle and Dance Traditions
  • Music of the Scottish Diaspora

Entry Requirements

Normally an undergraduate 2:1 or equivalent in Ethnology, Folklore, Ethnomusicology, or a related field. Students without specific experience in ethnographic fieldwork will be asked to audit the Taught MLitt fieldwork seminars and workshops.

Fees and Funding

Please refer to our Tuition Fees page for fee information for this Research Area.

Our Funding Database

View all funding options in our Funding Database.


What skills do our students gain from our courses?

Graduates from the Institute’s programmes have gone on to work in academia, public arts, museums, archives, cultural tourism, cultural administration and provision, and other fields. The disciplines of Ethnology, Folklore, and Ethnomusicology are incredibly interdisciplinary and wide-ranging. In addition to gaining a thorough understanding of the disciplines, their history, and contemporary contexts in Scotland and beyond, students completing our programmes will:

  • learn how to conduct in-depth, ethical ethnographic fieldwork;
  • learn how to produce a comprehensive long-form piece of research incorporating fieldwork and archival and historical research;
  • learn valuable digital production and editing skills as part of the radio project (Course 3) and the film project (Course 4);
  • learn archival cataloguing skills;
  • learn how to deliver academic, conference-style presentations;
  • learn how to present academic research in non-academic, public engagement contexts.

Get in Touch

Contact Details

Postgraduate Research School
University of Aberdeen
Crombie Hall
AB24 3TS