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Robert Burns Lives!
A Collaborative Tribute from Four Editors by Patrick Scott, Bill Dawson, Mike Duguid, and Gerard Carruthers


Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Greater Atlanta, GA, USA
Email: jurascot@earthlink.net

This week, Robert Burns Lives! attains its 250th number. Its founder, Frank Shaw, whom we are proud to call a friend, has been editing it for much longer than any other current editor of a Burns-related periodical, and under his benign direction it has come to occupy a unique position among the several different periodicals and websites devoted to Robert Burns and the Burnsian community. Over the past fifteen years, the 250 articles have covered a remarkable variety of aspects of Burns. They have been contributed by an equally remarkable range of writers from Alex Salmond (no. 40, 2009), Ross Roy (repeatedly, from no. 6, 2003) and Eddie Reader (no. 37, also 2009), through virtually every prominent Burns scholar of the past forty years, to essays from Burns's Ukrainian translators, and even a few non-Burnsians like David Shi, president of Furman University. They have been linked by Frank’s own enthusiasm and curiosity, building a community of interest in the broader significance of Robert Burns and what he means in the 21st century. These things don’t just happen by themselves, and it seems worth saying thank you.

Frank (as we all know him) started Robert Burns Lives! in print as a column in The Family Tree in September 2002, and it soon became available also on the web as part of Alastair McIntyre’s site Electric Scotland. Publication on the Electric Scotland site, with its own front or index page, gave Robert Burns Lives! more of its own identity as well as wider distribution. It reached article 50 in April 2009, article 100 in November 2010 (Frank himself writing on the centenary of the Atlanta Burns Cottage), article 150 in August 2012 (a tribute by Bill Dawson), and article 200 in July 2014. To celebrate that 200th number, Alastair McIntyre wrote an excellent retrospective, giving the history of Robert Burns Lives! with extracts both from the articles themselves and from Frank's characteristic and generous introductions.
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In many ways, Robert Burns Lives! is an exemplary story of how its editor has successfully transitioned through, and his publication has benefitted from, wider changes in how we all communicate. It began in print, and moved to digital publication, shedding its early dependence on subscriptions and mail distribution, and gaining flexibility in article length and publication schedule and frequent colour illustration. In digital-only form, Robert Burns Lives! is free and accessible immediately on publication day to readers worldwide. But Frank’s willingness to adapt to technological change is only part of RBL’s success. From the beginning Frank has sought out contributors personally. When he met someone at a conference, or heard a good speaker, or read an interesting book and could track down its author, he has asked them to contribute. As Ross Roy used to do, he has encouraged young scholars to share accounts of their research, and so begin the healthy process of engaging with a wider public. And he has written himself, when books or news items or things he saw in his travels with Susan caught his attention. Almost everything he has published is notably more readable than what commonly appears in academic journals, and it is made even more readable by his introductory comments on the contributors and their topics. Some of the items on Robert Burns Lives! have been chiefly of immediate interest, but a remarkable number of the 250 are clearly of lasting value.

For this 250th number, instead of repeating the story told in Alastair's excellent article three years ago, four of us who are editors of other Burns-related publications asked Frank if we could mark the occasion by trying to pin down how Robert Burns Lives! has changed editorial attitudes and broadened horizons for all periodicals serving the Burns community. The publications we edit are the annual Burns Chronicle, edited by Bill Dawson for the Robert Burns World Federation, the longest-running Burns periodical in the world, which also carries each year the biggest concentration of research-based articles on Burns; its bimonthly counterpart, and the newest of Burns periodicals, the RBWF Newsletter, edited by Mike Duguid, which gives timely illustrated reports of Burnsian activities; and the two leading academic journals in Scottish literature, both now appearing twice a year, Scottish Literary Review, edited by Gerry Carruthers of the University of Glasgow, and Studies in Scottish Literature, jointly edited by Patrick Scott and Tony Jarrells of the University of South Carolina. All four of the journals now have, in different ways as noted below, a digital existence as well as one in print or hardcopy, a development for which Robert Burns Lives! and Electric Scotland showed the way.

On the academic end, of course, there are many other journals that occasionally carry the odd Burns article, and with Web publication, and now social media, there are several other interesting Burns sites that also give Burns news (such as the RBANA Newsletter) or even quite substantial articles; the Glasgow Centre for Robert Burns Studies, for instance, hosts a site Editing Burns for the 21st Century, with news and discoveries from the team working on the new Oxford Edition of Robert Burns. The ASLS’s online e-zine, The Bottle Imp, has Burns articles and reviews from time to time. Newsletters and websites maintained by individual clubs provide an increasing variety of substantive content as well as news; examples are the articles on the Irvine and Calgary Burns Club sites. But the four journals discussed here represent a full spectrum from heavily-documented research articles on specific poems or aspects of Burns’s life to the briefer reports about Burns discoveries, events and people. This is the spectrum of interest that through Robert Burns Lives! Frank Shaw has extended and made into a worldwide community of readers. All four of us have ourselves contributed articles to Robert Burns Lives!, and the brief reflections and tributes below attempt to say what Frank’s success with it has meant to us and to Burns studies.

In addition to Robert Burns Lives!, the Electric Scotland site has extensive Burns content, from early editions and biographical sources to presentations on Burns localities and recent talks (indexed at:
http://www.electricscotland.com/burns/index.html)

The Burns Chronicle

Editor: Bill Dawson. Annual, published each November dated for the following year. Founded 1892 as Annual Burns Chronicle and Club Directory. Published by the Robert Burns World Federation. Approx. 150 pages, hardbound. Current volumes distributed to Clubs, individual members of the Burns Federation, and subscribing libraries. Open-access digital version of earlier volumes in progress at: http://www.rbwf.org.uk/digitised-chronicles/

Bill Dawson writes: I am quietly jealous and envious of Robert Burns Lives! The Burns Chronicle issues one volume annually, with a process from copy to publication that occupies many weeks, whereas Frank can publish his articles almost immediately. Robert Burns Lives! can respond quickly to exciting research developments, where any follow-up in the Chronicle must wait for a later annual volume. I’m very conscious, from work on my Index to the Chronicle, of its 126-year-long heritage as the journal of record for Burns research. When it began publication in 1892, the authorities of the Burns Federation aimed to publish “interesting contributions from Burnsian scholars of prominence and recognized ability.” This is still our goal, more than ever. In the words printed on our cover: “The mission of the Chronicle remains the furtherance of knowledge about Robert Burns and its publication in a form that is both academically responsible and clearly communicated for the broader Burnsian community.” The volume also, of course, still includes a brief concluding section maintaining the Federation’s historical record, but much of the Club news is now shared through the RBWF Newsletter described below. Many older volumes have been made available in digital form, though the Chronicle remains primarily a print journal, acquired for its long-term value by many libraries. Each volume now typically includes some 15-20 articles about Burns, including articles by knowledgeable Federation members as well as from academics able to write for our readership. We have a formal refereeing process for articles by university-based scholars who request it, and on all articles I can consult the Chronicle’s advisory board members or other senior scholars, but for me, as for Frank, the primary test for inclusion is whether an article meets our criteria of quality, significance, readability, and interest.

Robert Burns Lives! has provided a model in these developments with its range of interesting articles and its ever refreshing panel of contributors. Having been a reader of RBL! long before I became Editor of the Burns Chronicle, the range of articles and scope of contributors that Frank has garnered to his column certainly indicated the field of reference I should engage when I seek potential contributions for the Chronicle. The exclamation mark on the title, exclaiming Robert Burns Lives!, is no false boast, supported by a constant flow of interesting articles about up to the minute fresh research and thought on all aspects of the life and works of the Poet. I congratulate Frank Shaw on this remarkable milestone chapter, and I will follow the future progress of this seminal publication with, in the best and most positive way, continuing editorial jealousy.

Robert Burns World Federation Newsletter

Editor: Mike Duguid. Bimonthly, six issues a year, January-November. Founded January, 2013. Published by the Robert Burns World Federation. 12 double-column pages an issue, normally distributed in pdf by email to Federation members and others; hardcopy to members on request. Also freely available through links from the RBWF website, Club sites, Facebook, etc. Current issue and archive at: http://www.rbwf.org.uk/aboutrbwf/newsletter/.

Mike Duguid writes: From 2002 until 2013 the Burns Chronicle was published by the Robert Burns World Federation in three printed editions per year. For some time there had been a discussion about reverting to the traditional annual format, and the new Editor, Bill Dawson, was keen to see the Chronicle published in this format so more substantial articles could again be included. The dilemma was that the Chronicle also contained club news including notice of, and reports on, events which would have been difficult to convey in an annual publication. As Convenor of the Federation’s Literature Committee, I suggested a bi-monthly Newsletter as a possible solution to this problem especially as it could be distributed electronically to members and others, thereby alleviating the perennial problem suffered by the printed Chronicle: many individual club members never seeing a copy unless a diligent club secretary circulated it. Since its launch in January 2013, the Newsletter has become an indispensable form of communication with members and with the wider public who engage with it through other social media formats such as the RBWF website and Facebook page. Printed copies were also made available to those members who didn’t have access to an electronic mode of communication. The Newsletter, now a standard 12 pages in length, carries an eclectic mix of articles on all aspects of the Federation’s activities and in particular strives to include as many items from overseas to reflect the international appeal of Burns.

As Editor of the Newsletter I should like to pass on my congratulations to Frank Shaw on the publication of the 250th article in the ‘Burns Lives’ series, a magnificent milestone. As the number of inputs has grown these readily-accessible articles now cover such a wide spectrum of topics that there is inevitably something of interest to satisfy anyone looking for information about Robert Burns. The inspiring writing from so many accomplished scholars and Burns’ enthusiasts can only but stimulate further research into the life and works of Scotland’s National Bard and hopefully encourage even more contributors to pitch their hats into the ring with this wonderful resource. Lang may yer lum reek, Frank.

Scottish Literary Review

Editor: Gerard Carruthers. Two issues each year. Founded as Scottish Literary News, 1970-1974; as Scottish Literary Journal, 1974-2000; as Scottish Studies Review, 2001-2007; current title from 2008. Published by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies. Approx. 80-100 pages per issue. Published in hardcopy for ASLS members and libraries by subscription; also available in digital form from vol. 5 (2013) in many academic libraries through Project Muse: https://muse.jhu.edu/journal/614.

Gerry Carruthers writes: It is an astonishing feat that Robert Burns Lives! is reaching its 250th issue, and has never been less than interesting in all its features. In part, this has to do with its wise editor having a strong sense that all parts of the very wide Burnsian church ought to be catered for. Scholars, enthusiast, collectors, club-members (sometimes all of these things at the same time!) have contributed to RBL, with a series of cutting-edge, research-led, critically-thoughtful articles. Remarkably, if anything, RBL’s frequency of output has sped up since its inception in 2002. Cheering also is the way that the print journal, the Burns Chronicle (organ of the Robert Burns World Federation), has worked symbiotically with RBL sharing themes and sometimes material. This is testimony to the energy, enthusiasm and charm of RBL’s editor Frank Shaw, similar qualities to those possessed by Burns Chronicle editor, Bill Dawson. In print and online Burnsians have never been better served by this network of cooperation.

As a Burns scholar myself and since 2014 editor of the peer-reviewed, Scottish Literary Review (organ of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies), I welcome Burns material, as well as from all areas of Scottish Literature. The same can be said for my counterparts in the US who edit, Studies in Scottish Literature; and like my counterparts I have to be careful not to be too Burns-heavy. What a good thing that I can often recommend RBL as an outlet to some would-be contributors to SLR, and RBL (along with SSL) has also encouraged me to introduce shorter notes and articles in relation to Burns, especially but not exclusively on matters of Burns publishing and manuscript history. My own journal, SLR, is part of a scholarly landscape where discussion of Burns is suitably energetic and dynamic for the twenty first century. It is an unalloyed pleasure to salute Robert Burns Lives and, indeed, its editor. Frank, here’s to your next 250 issues!

Studies in Scottish Literature

Editors: Patrick Scott and Tony Jarrells. Two issues each year. Founded by G. Ross Roy, 1963, and edited by him through vol. 35-36, 2007. Refounded 2012. Published by University of South Carolina Libraries. Approx. 150 pages per issue, or 300 pages a year. Recent issues (and vols 37-41) are published in print-on-demand paperback through CreateSpace, Amazon and Amazon UK, and in open-access digital form (vols 1-42, 1963-20) at: http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/ssl/.

Patrick Scott writes: When Ross Roy founded Studies in Scottish Literature, there was no recognized scholarly journal dedicated to Scottish literary studies. The early success of the journal was one of the factors that made sniffy academics in adjacent literary fields acknowledge the emergence of Scottish literature as an academic discipline. SSL tries to include articles from the whole range of Scottish literary history, from medieval poetry to 21st century crime fiction, but Ross’s own research and collecting interests ensured that over the years it regularly published Burns articles, research notes, and reviews. He was specially proud of the all-Burns volume 30 (1998), with illustrations by Alasdair Gray, that printed the talks from the South Carolina Burns bicentenary conference. The first “new” volume after we took over was a collection of Burns essays in Ross’s honor, and the five volumes we have edited since then have all included Burns items, a reflection of growing research activity in the field. Nonetheless, even over a period of sixty years, out of the 1000 or more items on our web-site, the Burns items in SSL will probably total closer to 120 items, than to the 250 that Frank has now published on RBL!.

In 2012, shortly before his death, Ross transferred rights in the journal to the University, for publication to resume after a nearly five-year gap. We inherited therefore (indeed had thrust upon us) a goodly heritage, but a difficult situation. Print subscriptions had declined over the years, and SSL had already missed its best opportunity to add a subscription-based digital version. The obvious success of Robert Burns Lives! was one of the things that encouraged us to restart the journal in open-access form, and to make the back volumes similarly available. Total full-text article downloads since 2012 have now passed the 200,000 mark, with a range of readership that was never possible when we were solely dependent on print distribution. Editing for an academic journal is inevitably more formal and impersonal (and slower!) than Robert Burns Lives! The ambitious young birkies of academic life need the guinea-stamp of refereed publication, even though as editors we are all looking primarily for the pith o’ sense. To maintain professional recognition, all SSL’s full-length articles go through a formal review process (often as helpful to the writers as to the editors); we keep the page format on the screen as that of a traditional print journal, with extensive documentation; and we still produce a print-on-demand hard-copy to ensure future availability in traditional libraries. But, alongside the traditional research articles, we have tried also to incorporate some of the proactive flexibility that characterizes Frank as editor. Our new volumes typically start with a group of invited articles giving varying perspectives on a single topic, just as Robert Burns Lives! has done successfully with Burns and slavery, Burns and sex, and Burns and medicine. We are including many more illustrations, most notably in our ongoing series of shorter notes researching the Burns manuscripts in the Roy Collection. To provide timely positive coverage of new books, we write shorter descriptive notices in-house, with formal full-length expert reviewing now reserved for a few selected items. And we’ve recently split the annual volume into two shorter issues a year, to shorten publication delays. No doubt, as with other academic journals, there will be further changes to SSL in the coming years.

Soon after SSL’s first number appeared, when Ross was still teaching in Texas, the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper reviewed it, to his great joy, under the bold-print headline “Texas Shows the Way to Scotland.” Frank Shaw and Robert Burns Lives! have shown the way to other editors on how to serve and interest and inform a broad-based community of Burnsians. Each of our four journals has its particular mission or niche and strengths that differentiate it from Robert Burns Lives!, but Frank’s achievement has enriched us all. Thanks to you, Frank, from all of us as you reach this milestone.


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