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Robert Burns Lives!
New Burns Research Unit for Dumfries

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

I have recently heard from two great Burns scholars, Drs. Kenneth Simpson and Ted Cowan. In a companion article also posted on Robert Burns Lives!, you will find a message from Ken regarding lectures in Glasgow. The following information is from Ted, and I must share the exciting news for those who are interested in serious study of Robert Burns. Below is a press release that needs no further explanation. I wish it were possible to have the opportunity to take advantage of the programs in Dumfries and Glasgow.

Professor Ted Cowan will be in charge of the Dumfries research unit. I met Dr. Cowan at the U.S. Library of Congress while attending the “Robert Burns at 250: Poetry, Politics, and Performance” symposium in Washington during February of this year. Later, I got to spend some time with Professor Cowan at the University of South Carolina where he gave The W. Ormiston Roy Lecture, the keynote address during the “Robert Burns at 250: An International Conference on Contemporaries, Contexts and Cultural Forms” held at the university in April.

Suffice it to say, with Ted Cowan leading the Dumfries project, the students who attend will be well versed in the study of Scotland’s national Bard. Just another reason why Robert Burns will never die!  (FRS: 8.18.09)


New Burns Research Unit for Dumfries

The University of Glasgow’s recent week-long Summer School on Robert Burns, in partnership with the Burns World Federation, culminated in a conference which marked the launch of the University’s BARD project (Burns Appreciation and Research in Dumfries).  This initiative, made possible by a generous private donation, aims to bring together the expertise of academics and local Burnsians to study the life and works of Robert Burns, concentrating on the Dumfriesshire years.  It will also support a new MLitt in Robert Burns Studies at Glasgow University in Dumfries.

The project was launched by Bill Dawson, President of the Burns World Federation, and Mike Duguid, incoming President of the Federation, both of whom warmly welcomed this new forum for Burns Studies.

BARD will focus on Burns as icon, legend, folklore figure, collector of music and song, national and global phenomenon, as well as poet and literary genius.  It will operate in partnership with the Robert Burns Centre at Glasgow University’s main campus. 

One of the conference presenters was Professor Ken Simpson who will be BARD’s first Visiting Professor at the Dumfries Campus.  BARD’s Director is Professor Ted Cowan.

The University of Glasgow at Dumfries plans to open a unit for Burns Appreciation and Research in Dumfries.  Dumfries (and Dumfriesshire), where the poet lived from 1788 until his death in 1796, is the ideal location for this initiative which is made possible by a handsome private donation. 

The proposed unit will:

  • Bring together academic and local expertise on Burns.  The latter should not be under-estimated. There are numerous Burns Clubs in the Southwest supplying many presidents of the World Federation over the years. Many local enthusiasts possess unrivalled knowledge of the poet’s work and the allusions and references therein.
  • Concentrate, though not exclusively, on the study of Robert Burns and his works during the Dumfries years.  It will also focus on Burns as icon, legend, folklore figure, and collector of songs as well as national and global phenomenon.
  • Encourage collaboration with performers of Burns’ songs, and ballads and music associated with the poet.
  • Operate in partnership with the Robert Burns Centre at Glasgow University’s Main Campus which is devoted to research on the poet and the provision of his works on the web.
  • Offer a postgraduate degree – an MLitt in Robert Burns Studies which
  • has been approved by Glasgow University’s Higher Degrees Committee.  It is intended that in the longer term the Robert Burns courses will be developed as distance taught units.
  • Will organise an annual conference on the Bard
  • Will organise an annual Summer School on Crichton Campus
  • Appoint a Visiting Professor in Robert Burns Studies for part of each academic year to raise the profile of the programme and Glasgow’s Dumfries campus.  This individual will teach, will be available for academic supervision and will organize public events such as seminars, workshops and lectures.
  • Will create a dedicated website focusing on the life and work of Burns in Dumfries.

Will explore publications, possibly but not exclusively, arising from conferences, which will promote Burns, Glasgow University at Dumfries and the region in general. For example The Creation of Robert Burns might make an interesting theme. Early authorities on Burns were Robert Heron, James Currie and Allan Cunningham all of whom came from Dumfries and Galloway while the Englishman, R.H. Cromek (Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song and Reliques of Robert Burns) carried out most of his ‘fieldwork’ in Nithsdale under the misdirection of Cunningham. There is room for a book on Galloway, Dumfries and the Borders in the Time of Robert Burns while another possibility is The Contemporaries of Robert Burns. Another project might be the reprinting of William MacDowall’s Dumfries in the Time of Burns.

Proposed Glasgow University in Dumfries Faculty:

Professor Ted Cowan (Burns; Scottish History)
Dr Valentina Bold (Burns; Scottish Literature; James Hogg; Folklore)
Dr David Borthwick (Scottish Literature)
Dr Ralph Jessop (Scottish Enlightenment; Thomas Carlyle; 18th and19th Century Literature)
Dr Lizanne Henderson (Scottish Folklore; History)

Associate Faculty – these will be drawn from Burns experts at Glasgow University and other universities. 


The visiting Professor in Robert Burns Studies for session 2009- 2010 will be Professor Kenneth Simpson, a world authority on the Bard.

In addition Patrons will be invited to lend their support in publicising and promoting the activities of BARD.  These are all individuals who are prominent in Burns circles or who are well-known students of Burns. So far all individuals and organisations who have been approached have expressed themselves to be greatly in favour of this initiative.

For the Homecoming Year 2009, the 250th anniversary of Burns’ birth, Glasgow University at Dumfries has already developed a number of Burns associated initiatives.  For example, in July, we organised a Burns Summer School and a one-day Conference in association with the Burns Federation. We have also organised a series of linked workshops and conferences throughout the region on Burns’ contemporaries to meet the specifications for the 2009 Homecoming sub-themes of Enlightenment, Innovation and the Scottish Diaspora.  2009 has provided an excellent opportunity to advertise the University of Glasgow in Dumfries and its programmes to the local community as well as globally. BARD will additionally enhance the university’s future activities.

Ted Cowan

University of Glasgow, Dumfries Campus  - MLitt Robert Burns Studies

12 Months Full Time or 24 Months Part Time

The MLitt in Robert Burns studies is linked to the University of Glasgow’s BARD (Burns Appreciation and Research in Dumfries) initiative.

What does the programme involve?

Leading experts will guide you in exploring Burns’ rich range of poetry and the wider influences upon his work.

Robert Burns Studies looks at Burns as a supremely innovative writer and within his literary and historical milieu. Burns is presented as a divided figure drawing, at once, on the rich and robust oral traditions of Scotland and, equally, on the Enlightenment. The works of the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’, from lyrics to political verse, from the religious to the bawdy, are viewed in context, to achieve a greater understanding of his output and of his era.

In order to graduate you will complete two compulsory courses plus two elective courses, with options for an independent reading course reflecting your own interests. You must complete a dissertation for the award of MLitt, but it is also possible, by completing the coursework without the dissertation, to qualify for a Diploma in Robert Burns Studies.

Also available MPhil and PHD research degrees in Robert Burns Studies.

Core Courses

Robert Burns: life and works

This course familiarises students with Burns’ life and works, and changing responses to these from the late 18th century to the present. It sets Burns into context as a writer bridging the gap between Enlightenment aesthetics and Romanticism. Celebrations of the poet and his life, from Burns suppers to 2009’s Homecoming, are also considered in this introductory course.

Robert Burns in Context

Here, we put Burns into historical context, from the 18th century onwards. The course covers his influences, relationships with contemporaries, and scholarly comparisons with early poets and writers. There are sessions devoted to linguistic analysis, as well as the location of Burns within a distinctly oral tradition. We consider Burns in other contexts, with alternative views of both the man and the poet. Finally, we consider Burns in the context of the early 21st century, where his work continues to emote and divide.

In addition, you can choose another two courses from the optional course list:

Scottish poetry in the 19th century
Scottish Enlightenment thought
Heritage, interpretation and development
Scottish folklore and popular culture
Independent reading course (topic to be decided in consultation between student and staff, allowing the student to persue special interests)

You will also be required to complete a 15 – 20,000 word dissertation

For Further information please contact;

Ted Cowan
Professor of Scottish History, Glasgow University
Director of University of Glasgow, Dumfries Campus
Rutherford/McCowan Building
Crichton University Campus
Dumfries, DG1 4ZL

Tel: +44 (0) 1387 702054

University of Glasgow, Dumfries, Rutherford/McCowan Building

The University of Glasgow, charity number SC004401

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