A! Magazine for the Arts

The ETSU Celtic Band with Jane MacMorran (second from left), director of ETSU's Appalachian, Scottish, and Irish Studies program.

The ETSU Celtic Band with Jane MacMorran (second from left), director of ETSU's Appalachian, Scottish, and Irish Studies program.

Appalachia Connections: ETSU Programs

February 22, 2011

ASIS is a program of the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services (CASS), established in 2008 at ETSU.

In addition, CASS houses the Bachelor of Arts in Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music along with three minors - Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music; Appalachian Studies; and Environmental Studies.

Though one-third of the state of Tennessee falls within the Appalachian region, ETSU is the only four-year institution with a stated mission to serve this area: "ETSU embraces its regional setting and proudly reflects its traditional roots and Appalachian heritage. ETSU's location in the heart of Appalachia positions it to capitalize on the region as a laboratory for research, service learning, active community work, and building collections."

History of the Appalachian, Scottish, and Irish Studies Program

The idea for a studies program examining the cultural and historical connections of Appalachia with Scotland (and later with Ireland) developed in the early 1980s when Barbara McDermitt, then a doctoral student at the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, began studying this connection in the context of storytelling. McDermitt worked with Dr. Thomas G. Burton, Department of English at ETSU, and subsequently invited him to Edinburgh to share his knowledge of folklore with faculty and students at the School of Scottish Studies.

Burton and McDermitt, together with the Edinburgh faculty, discussed the possibility of establishing an Appalachian-Scottish Studies program, which officially began in 1988 with a five-week program of study at ETSU. In 1989, ETSU and the University of Edinburgh entered into a formal agreement, which provided for the exchange of faculty, students, and research materials, and the shared use of research facilities.

Dr. Burton directed the Appalachian-Scottish Studies program until his retirement in 1996. That same year the name changed to its present form [The Appalachian, Scottish, and Irish Studies (ASIS) program] to denote its expanded mission of also examining the cultural and historical connection between Ireland and Appalachia.

University courses include Scottish Ethnology, Scottish and Irish Literature, British Literature, Celtic Band, Individual Instruction in Celtic Fiddling, Scots-Irish and Scots in Appalachia, Appalachia in Scotland and Ireland, as well as numerous Appalachian Studies courses, which include components of Scottish and Irish history and culture.

In addition to the relationship with the University of Edinburgh, ETSU has a formal exchange agreement with the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. This semester, an exchange student from Scotland is studying in ETSU's Bluegrass Program and is a member of the ETSU Celtic Band.

Additional educational partners include members of the University of the Highlands and Islands system, the University of Glasgow-Crichton Campus, and The Institute for Ulster Scots Study at the University of Ulster.

Study Abroad: In addition to year-round studies, during even-numbered years, ETSU students spend five weeks studying on the ETSU campus, an experience augmented by field trips, guest lectures, and participation by students from the University of Edinburgh. Then for three weeks during the summer of odd-numbered years, ETSU students travel to Scotland and Ireland, where they study at Scottish and Irish universities and engage in cultural events and field experiences. Past trips have included events such as ceilidhs, storytelling, Gaelic poetry readings, and field trips to the Borders, the Highlands, the Isle of Skye, the Kingdom of Fife, Sir Walter Scott country, Brodick Castle, the Glasgow Cathedral, the Standing Stones Arran, and other locations.

This summer, ETSU students will fly to Northern Ireland where they will attend lectures by University of Ulster faculty members and participate in field trips and other activities. Participants will focus on the history of Northern Ireland and its impact on the settlement and cultural traditions of the Appalachian region. From Ulster, they will move to the University of Glasgow where they will study art and literature. Next, the group will progress through the Highlands to the northern-most point of the Scottish mainland. They will also travel by ferry to Orkney College to learn about the Scandinavian influences on language and music as well as study some of Orkney's vast archaeological treasures. The final stop will be the University of Edinburgh, with personal time off to enjoy the city.

Workshops at ETSU: ASIS has sponsored Celtic fiddle and guitar workshops on the ETSU campus, allowing high school students to study Scottish and Irish fiddling, bluegrass fiddle, Celtic guitar, session guitar and bluegrass guitar styles. The workshops featured lectures, presentations, and performances by ETSU faculty, as well as accomplished Celtic musicians from the region.

Archives: The ASIS Collection focuses on the history, culture and interrelationships among the three locales. Materials in this collection provide insight into subjects such as folklore, storytelling and oral traditions, Appalachian and Gaelic language and literature, traditional music, migration patterns, and other aspects of Appalachian, Scottish, and Irish history and culture. Documentation is found in manuscript records, audio and video recordings, and photographs. The materials are housed in the Archives of Appalachia in ETSU's Sherrod Lbrary.

Professional Development: Along with university academic courses, ASIS has offered Appalachian-Celtic Connections, a professional development course for high school teachers. Topics have included a general introduction to Appalachia, Scotland, and Ireland; Scottish Identity in the United States and the South; storytelling, music, and foodways. The course informed teachers of university resources such as CASS, the B. Carroll Reece Museum, and the Archives of Appalachia. ASIS also offered the summer in-service program Celebrating and Documenting Community Traditions in conjunction with the Reece Museum.

New Components

Dances: For the first time, the Department of Appalachian Studies is sponsoring Contras and Ceilidhs at the Culp. Staff and students from the Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music program perform live Celtic and Old Time music. The dances began February 1 and will continue March 3, April 5, and May 5 in the Culp Center Ballroom. No experience and no partner needed. Arrive at 6:30 p.m. to learn the steps. The dance starts at 7 p.m.

Celtic Bands: This semester the program has two bands, the ETSU Celtic Band and a new one called Peat Bog. The ETSU Celtic Band recently recorded an album, engineered by ETSU Recording Lab Manager Ben Bateson and produced by Will MacMorran.

Burton Scholarship: ASIS recently established the scholarship to give financial assistance to students wishing to register for the study abroad course.

>> Jane MacMorran: ASIS Director, Musician, Concertmaster, Teacher