USA university offers first lectureship in Gaelic studies

THE first ever university-level lectureship in Gaelic Studies in America has been launched.

Tales and Tunes of the Scottish Highland being played at the University of North Carolina. Picture: Supplied
Tales and Tunes of the Scottish Highland being played at the University of North Carolina. Picture: Supplied

The Scottish Gaelic Foundation of America is starting the lectureship at the University of North Carolina (UNC), with funding coming from Scottish Heritage USA.

Rev Dr Douglas Kelly, President of Scottish Heritage USA, said: “The Carolinas were home to the largest Gaelic-speaking communities outside of Scotland for generations and people of Highland ancestry still make up a large segment of the region’s population.

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“This is an ideal time to foster scholarship about the Gaelic legacy of the Carolinas and North America as a whole in the academy.

University of North Carolina's library has a host of Gaelic literature. Picture: UNC

“This donation from SHUSA fulfills its commitment to serving the Scottish-American community by ensuring the recognition of this important cultural legacy.”

He added: “I was keenly aware of my Scottish Highland heritage when I was a student at UNC and had always wanted to see Gaelic taught there.

“Now, I may live to see that happen.”

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University of North Carolina's library has a host of Gaelic literature. Picture: UNC

Dr Charles MacQuarrie, President of Urras Gàidhlig nan Stàitean Aonaichte/GaelicUSA, said: “We thank SHUSA for their commitment to enabling the study of Scottish Gaelic language and culture in the United States.

“We agree with Rev Dr Kelly that UNC is the ideal place to house such a lectureship, and hope now to be successful in justifying and funding an endowed Chair of Scottish Gaelic at UNC.”

Dr Mary Floyd-Wilson, the new head of the Department of English and Comparative Literature, said: “We are enthusiastic about bringing a scholar and teacher to the department who can expand our knowledge of Scottish Gaelic Studies and who inspires students to pursue their own connections with this literary history.

“The funding of the Visiting Lectureship is a major step towards our ultimate goal of endowing a full Chair in Scottish Gaelic Studies.

“It will enable us to build confidence in our initiative with the broader community, bridging faculty and administration at the university level with the public.

“In recognition of the vital support given by Scottish Heritage USA, the Visiting Lectureship will have the official title, “the SHUSA Visiting Lectureship in Scottish Gaelic Studies at UNC.”

Professor Robert Dunbar, Chair of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh, has greeted the move, saying: “We are greatly encouraged to see that students at North Carolina will be able to connect with an important and sadly neglected part of the heritage of the state and, indeed, of North America in general, and that desperately-needed research on the very rich legacy of new world Gaels will be facilitated.”

Professor Thomas Owen Clancy, Chair of Celtic at the University of Glasgow, added: “This is fantastic and unlooked for news, a real ray of hope.

“At a time when academic posts are shrinking in Celtic Studies generally on both sides of the Atlantic, this investment in Gaelic in UNC will make a real difference, and Chapel Hill is most certainly the right place to host this.”

Dr. Natasha Sumner, Assistant Professor of Celtic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University, said: “Scottish Gaelic, a modern Celtic language closely related to Irish and Manx, has a nearly threecentury-long history on this continent.

“The field of North American Gaelic Studies has been strengthening since the late Harvard professor, Charles Dunn’s pioneering work with the Canadian Gaelic-speaking community in the twentieth century.

“However, Gaels’ cultural heritage continues to be understudied, particularly in the United States. That a Visiting Lectureship is to be established at the University of North Carolina—the state in which the first American Gaelic book was published in the eighteenth century—is welcome news indeed.”

The Lectureship position will be advertised this month and the candidate will be chosen in early 2018.

The lectureship will consist of five courses exploring literature, identity, and folklore using Gaelic texts (in English translation), explored from a Scottish Highland perspective.

The courses will incorporate material inclusive of history and culture, ancient and modern, and will relate to both Scotland and the North American diaspora.

Endowing a chair in Scottish Gaelic Studies at UNC will cost approximately $2.5 million.