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2504352Literary Research Guide — Scottish Literature2017James L. Harner
Scottish Literature

This section is limited to works devoted exclusively to Scottish literature (primarily in English). Because Scottish writers are frequently included in reference works on English or British literature, researchers must also consult section M: English Literature. Many works listed in sections G: Serial Bibliographies, Indexes, and Abstracts and H: Guides to Dissertations and Theses are useful for research in Scottish literature.

Histories and Surveys[edit]


The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature. Ian Brown, gen. ed. 3 vols. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2007. PR8511.E35 820.99411′22.

  • Vol. 1: From Columba to the Union (until 1707). Ed. Thomas Owen Clancy and Murray Pittock. 334 pp.
  • Vol. 2: Enlightenment, Britain, and Empire. Ed. Susan Manning. 390 pp.
  • Vol. 3: Modern Transformations: New Identities (from 1918). Ed. Brown. 356 pp.

A collaborative history of Scottish literature in English, Latin, Scottish, Norse, French, Welsh, and Gaelic that employs multiple theoretical perspectives to engage “problems of canonicity, reception and interpretation.” Each volume consists of essays by established scholars on cultural, social, and intellectual backgrounds; genres; reception; languages; and major writers. Although the editors deliberately eschewed “a distracting reference apparatus,” essays conclude with a brief list of studies for further reading. Indexed in each volume by persons, subjects, and some titles. Despite lacking the coherence and balance possible in a connected narrative, Edinburgh History offers the most current and thorough history of Scottish literature.

Literary Handbooks, Dictionaries, and Encyclopedias[edit]


Royle, Trevor. Mainstream Companion to Scottish Literature. Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1993. 335 pp. (Revision of Companion to Scottish Literature [Detroit: Gale, 1983; 322 pp.].) PR8506.R692 820.9′9411′03.

A handbook with entries on authors writing in English, Scots, or Gaelic; movements; historical events and persons; publishing; manuscripts; places; and other topics of literary interest. The majority of the entries are for writers (including historians, philosophers, divines, and scholars) and provide basic biographical information, brief critical comments, and a list of major books (including standard editions) and citations to important scholarship. Entrants in the 1983 edition are indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565). Despite occasional errors, this is a valuable, lucidly written source for quick reference.


Bold, Alan. Scotland: A Literary Guide. London: Routledge, 1989. 327 pp. PR8531.B65 820.9′9411.

A guide to important locations with literary associations. Places are listed alphabetically; organized chronologically under each location are sections on authors, medieval to contemporary and foreigners as well as Scots, that describe the nature of the association, note specific buildings or monuments (without precise locations in too many instances), and usually offer an illustrative quotation. With more attention to local color than is usual in such works, Scotland: A Literary Guide is an entertaining resource for the literary tourist.

Guides to Scholarship and Criticism[edit]

Surveys of Research[edit]


Scottish Literary Journal: The Year’s Work in Scottish Literary and Linguistic Studies, [1984–96]. 1987–2001. Annual. PR8514.S3.

“The Year’s Work in Scottish Literary and Linguistic Studies, [1973–83].” Scottish Literary Journal: Supplement 1–23 (1975–85). Annual.

Selective, essay reviews of scholarship based on Annual Bibliography of Scottish Literature (O3075). The separately authored essays on language, folk literature, the medieval period to 1650, 1650 to 1800, 1800 to 1900, and 1900 to the present are typically judicious in selecting and evaluating the most important scholarship. More thorough in its coverage of Scottish literature than Year’s Work in English Studies (G330), this work was the best annual survey of scholarship on the field.

See also[edit]

YWES (G330): Scottish writers are covered in several chapters.

Serial Bibliographies[edit]


Annual Bibliography of Scottish Literature, [1969–82]. Supplement to Bibliotheck. 1970–84. Z2057.A65 011.

A bibliography of books, articles, and reviews organized in four classified divisions: general bibliographical and reference works; general literary criticism, anthologies, and collections; individual authors (subdivided by period); and ballads and folk literature. In each division or section, entries are listed alphabetically by author in three parts: books, reviews of previously listed books, and articles. Two indexes: literary authors; scholars. The Annual Bibliography of Scottish Literature was an important supplement to the serial bibliographies and indexes in section G.


Bibliography of Scotland, [1988– ] (BOS). Edinburgh: Natl. Lib. of Scotland, 1988– . <>.

Bibliography of Scotland, [1976–87]. 1978–90. Annual. Z2069.B52 015.411.

A database of books (including chapters of books not primarily about Scotland), serials, and articles about Scotland published after 1987 (along with publications from 1976–87 cataloged after 1988). The entries from the print volumes will eventually be incorporated into the database. Coverage is based largely on acquisitions by the National Library and thus is full but not comprehensive. Simple Search allows for keyword searches of the entire record, author, title, journal title, shelf mark, subject, ISBN, ISSN, or a combination of author and title. Advanced Search allows combinations of keyword searches of the same fields (except journal title, combined author and title, and shelf mark) along with date, series title, publisher, or personal name. Records can be sorted by author, title, or date (ascending or descending) and marked for printing, saving, or e-mailing. Although the coverage of literary studies is not particularly thorough, Bibliography of Scotland is sometimes a useful complement to Annual Bibliography of Scottish Literature (O3075) and the serial bibliographies and indexes in section G.

For earlier books about Scotland, see the following:

  • Hancock, P. D., comp. A Bibliography of Works Relating to Scotland, 1916–1950. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1959–60. Of interest to literary scholars are the classified divisions for biography, folklore, books and printing, language, and literature. Coverage of literary studies is far from complete, however.
  • Mitchell, Arthur, and C. G. Cash. A Contribution to the Bibliography of Scottish Topography. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP for Scottish History Soc., 1917. Pubs. of the Scottish Hist. Soc. 2nd ser. 14–15. Of interest to literary scholars are the divisions for bibliography, biography, folklore, place-names, and theater.

See also[edit]

Secs. G: Serial Bibliographies, Indexes, and Abstracts and H: Guides to Dissertations and Theses.

ABELL (G340): Entries on Scottish writers and literature are dispersed throughout.

Bibliography of British and Irish History (M1400).

Bibliotheca Celtica (P3155).

MLAIB (G335): Until the volume for 1981, Scottish literature in English was included in the English Literature division. Literature in Scottish Gaelic was covered in a Celtic Languages and Literatures heading under the General division in the volumes for 1928–52; in General IV (later V or VI): Celtic Languages and Literatures in the volumes for 1953–66; and in Celtic VIII: Scottish Gaelic in the volumes for 1967–80. Since the 1981 volume, the Scottish Literature section encompasses literature in whatever language. Researchers must also check the headings beginning “Scottish” in the subject index to post-1980 volumes and in the online thesaurus.

Other Bibliographies[edit]


The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (NCBEL). Ed. George Watson and I. R. Willison. 5 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969–77. Z2011.N45 [PR83] 016.82.

  • Vol. 1: 600–1660 has a section on Middle Scots poets (cols. 651–64) in the Middle English division and, in the Renaissance division, a section on Scottish printing and bookselling (cols. 967–70) and a subdivision on Scottish literature (cols. 2419–76), with classified listings for general studies, poetry and drama, and prose. Scottish writers also appear in other sections.
  • Vol. 2: 1660–1800 has sections on Scottish printing and bookselling (cols. 271–72) and periodicals (cols. 1369–78) and a separate division for Scottish literature (cols. 1955–2082) with sections for general studies, poetry and drama, and prose.
  • Vols. 3: 1800–1900 and 4: 1900–1950 treat Scottish literature and writers throughout their various divisions. Coverage of primary (but not secondary) works in vol. 3 is superseded by vol. 4 of the third edition of CBEL (M2467).

(For a full discussion of NCBEL, see entry M1385.)

In addition, many of the general sections list works important to the study of Scottish literature. Coverage extends through 1962–69, depending on the volume.

Users must familiarize themselves with the organization, remember that there is considerable unevenness of coverage among sections, and consult the index volume (vol. 5) rather than the provisional indexes in vols. 1–4.

Despite its shortcomings (see entry M1385), NCBEL offers the fullest overall bibliography of primary works and scholarship on Scottish literature in English.

For authors omitted from NCBEL or scholarship published after the cutoff dates of volumes, W. R. Aitken, Scottish Literature in English and Scots: A Guide to Information Sources (Detroit: Gale, 1982; 421 pp.; Amer. Lit., English Lit., and World Lits. in English: An Information Guide Ser. 37)—a highly selective and only partially annotated bibliography—is sometimes useful as a supplement.


Guides to Scholarship[edit]


ABELL (G340): See especially the Dialects section in the volumes for 1920–26; the English Dialects section in the volumes for 1927–72; and the Dialects/British Isles section in later volumes.

MLAIB (G335): See especially the Dialectology section of the English Language division. (English Language and Literature division in the volumes for 1922–25; English Language and Literature I/Linguistics in the volumes for 1926–66; Indo-European C/Germanic Linguistics IV/English in those for 1967–80; and Indo-European Languages/Germanic Languages/West Germanic Languages/English Language in later volumes.) Researchers must also check the heading “Scots English Dialect” in the subject index to post-1980 volumes and in the online thesaurus.

“Year’s Work in Scottish Literary and Linguistic Studies” (O3070).



Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL). U of Dundee, 2004. 30 Dec. 2014. <>.

An electronic version of

  • A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue from the Twelfth Century to the End of the Seventeenth (DOST). Ed. William A. Craigie et al. 12 vols. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1931–2002. PE2116.C7 427′.9411.
  • The Scottish National Dictionary: Designed Partly on Regional Lines and Partly on Historical Principles, and Containing All the Scottish Words Known to Be in Use or to Have Been in Use since c. 1700 (SND). Ed. William Grant and David D. Murison. 10 vols. Edinburgh: Scottish Natl. Dictionary Assn., 1931–76. Reduced print ed.: The Compact Scottish National Dictionary: Containing All the Scottish Words Known to Be in Use or to Have Been in Use since c. 1700, Arranged Partly on Regional Lines and Partly on Historical Principles. 2 vols. Aberdeen: Aberdeen UP, 1986. PE2106.S4 427.9.

Dictionary of the Scots Language consists of five data files: DOST main file, DOST Additions (the data published at the end of vol. 10), SND main file, SND Supplement (data from the supplements in the first three volumes, but with the completely new entries integrated into the SND main file), and SND New Supplement. Users can search text or browse headwords in a single file, in both DOST or the three SND files, or in all five files simultaneously (the default). Users can perform keyword or phrase searches in the full entry for a word (the default) or limit searches to headwords, geographic label abbreviations, citations, illustrative quotations, works cited, authors cited, etymologies, senses, or dates. Users must be certain to read the Search the DSL page for information about the search engine’s handling of Boolean operators, right truncation, diacritics, special characters, and punctuation. Since abbreviations have not been expanded, users will need frequent recourse to the lists of abbreviations (hidden away in DOST Prelims [click Abbreviations] and SND Introduction [scroll to the bottom of the Go To pull-down menu]). Effective use of the DSL requires an understanding of the scope and editorial practices of the two dictionaries it digitizes.

DOST is a historical dictionary of the Scottish language based on literary works, documents, records, and other manuscript materials. Because of the nature of the sources and changes in the language, the fullest coverage is for 1375–1600 (with words after 1600 confined to those no longer current or not coinciding with English usage), and because of changes in editorial policies and procedures, entries after vol. 2 are much more thorough. Typical entries record parts of speech, selected variant spellings (with a full index of these variants in each volume), etymologies, definitions, and illustrative quotations. Users should note that additions and corrections are collected at the end of each volume. Accuracy and thoroughness make this the essential source for the historical study of the language and interpretation of Scottish literature to 1700 and a necessary complement to the Oxford English Dictionary (M1410). For a discussion of the excerpting procedures, editing, and editorial problems, see A. J. Aitken, “DOST: How We Make It and What’s in It,” Dictionaries 4 (1982): 42–64; for an overview of changes in editorial practices, see Margaret G. Dareau, “DOST: Its History and Completion,” Dictionaries 23 (2002): 208–31. Reviews: (pt. 1) Percy W. Long, JEGP: Journal of English and Germanic Philology 32.2 (1933): 235–38; (pts. 1–2) Bruch Dickins, Modern Language Review 28.2 (1933): 243–44; (pt. 17) Hans Heinrich Meier, English Studies 43.5 (1962): 444–48; (pts. 19–21) A. Fenton, Scottish Studies 10 (1966): 198–205.

SND is a historical and dialectal dictionary of the Scottish language from c. 1700 to the mid-twentieth century that includes the following:

(1) Scottish words that do not occur in St[andard] Eng[lish] except as acknowledged loan words; (2) Scottish words the cognates of which occur in St[andard] Eng[lish]; (3) words which have the same form in Sc[ottish] and St[andard] Eng[lish] but have a different meaning in Sc[ottish] . . . ; (4) legal, theological or ecclesiastical terms which . . . have been current in Scottish speech . . .; (5) words borrowed since c. 1700 (from other dialects or languages) which have become current in Gen[eral] Sc[ottish], or in any of its dialects. . . .

A typical entry records variant spelling, part(s) of speech, status (e.g., obsolete, archaic, dialectal), meaning(s), pronunciation, inflections, etymology, and illustrative quotations (for the order of these, see vol. 1, pp. xlvi–xlvii; pp. 35–36 in the SND Introduction at the DSL site). Vol. 10 includes various appendixes (Scottish forms of personal names, place-names, fairs and markets, and a table of Scottish weights and measures [pp. 299–317]); a list of abbreviations used in entries (pp. 318–23); additions and corrections (pp. 325–536); a list of works quoted (pp. 537–74; click on the Search Bibliographies link at the DSL site); and scientific terms with Scottish connections (pp. 575–91). For the history and significance of SND, see A. J. Aitken, R. W. Burchfield, and Hugh MacDiarmid, “The Scottish National Dictionary: Three Comments on the Occasion of Its Completion,” Scottish Review 1 (1975): 17–25. Like Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, which it continues, SND is an essential source for the historical study of the language and interpretation of Scottish literature and an important complement to the Oxford English Dictionary (M1410). Review: W. F. H. Nicolaisen, Archiv 214.2 (1977): 403–05.

The preceding are complemented by J. Y. Mather and H. H. Speitel, eds., The Linguistic Atlas of Scotland: Scots Section, 3 vols. (London: Croom Helm, 1975–86). The best concise dictionary is Mairi Robinson, ed., The Concise Scots Dictionary (Aberdeen: Aberdeen UP, 1985; 819 pp.). For its potential uses, see Mairi Robinson, “The Concise Scots Dictionary as a Tool for Linguistic Research,” The Nuttis Schell: Essays on the Scots Language Presented to A. J. Aitken, ed. Caroline Macafee and Iseabail Macleod (Aberdeen: Aberdeen UP, 1987) 59–72. For a history of dictionaries of Scots, see Margaret Dareau and Iseabail Macleod, “Dictionaries of Scots,” The Oxford History of English Lexicography, ed. A. P. Cowie, vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon–Oxford UP, 2009) 302–25.

Biographical Dictionaries[edit]

John Horden’s plan for a “Dictionary of Scottish Biography” was never realized.


Sec. J: Biographical Sources.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (M1425).

Royle, Companion to Scottish Literature (O3065).


Guides to Primary Works[edit]


North, John S. The Waterloo Directory of Scottish Newspapers and Periodicals, 1800–1900. 2 vols. Waterloo: North Waterloo Academic, 1989. Phase II of the Waterloo Directory Ser. of Newspapers and Periodicals, England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, 1800–1900. Z6956.S3 W38 011′.34′09411.

A bibliography and finding list of several thousand serials published in Scotland during the nineteenth century. Publications are listed alphabetically by earliest title or issuing body for nonspecific titles; liberal cross-references cite alternative titles, issuing bodies, wrapper titles, nicknames, and many subtitles. Main entries record, when possible, titles; subtitles and title changes; series, volume, and issue numbering; publication dates; places of publication; editors; proprietors; publishers; printers; size; price; circulation; frequency of publication; illustrations; issuing bodies; indexing; departments; religious or political perspectives; miscellaneous notes; mergers; references to studies or histories; subject matter; and locations in about 111 collections in England and Scotland. Many entries are accompanied by a facsimile of a title page. Three indexes: subjects; persons (including corporate names); places of publication. The Waterloo Directory, about 85% of whose entries are based on the actual examination of runs, offers the most accurate and complete accumulation of information on Scottish serial publications. The extensive indexing makes essential sources for the study of nearly all facets of nineteenth-century Scottish life and culture readily accessible for the first time. An indispensable work that supersedes all earlier bibliographies listing nineteenth-century Scottish periodicals and newspapers and that—like its companion, Waterloo Directory of Irish Newspapers and Periodicals (N3000)—stands as an example of the kind of guide needed for serials of other countries and periods.

Since locations are restricted to selected English and Scottish collections, consult the following for additional holdings: Fulton and Colee, Union List of Victorian Serials (M2530); Ward, Index and Finding List (M2535); Union List of Serials (K640a); British Union-Catalogue of Periodicals (K645a); and WorldCat (E225).


Many works in sections L: Genres and M: English Literature/General/Genres are useful for research in Scottish literature.


Some works in sections L: Genres/Fiction and M: English Literature/General/Genres/Fiction are useful for research in Scottish fiction.

Histories and Surveys[edit]


Hart, Francis Russell. The Scottish Novel from Smollett to Spark. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978. 442 pp. British ed.: The Scottish Novel: A Critical Survey. London: Murray, 1978. 448 pp. PR8597.H37 823′.03.

A critical history of the development of the novel in Scotland from c. 1760 to the 1970s. In discussing approximately 200 works by some 50 novelists, Hart offers generally full descriptions of content and emphasizes distinctively Scottish motifs and methods but gives only limited attention to social context and style. Chapters are organized more or less chronologically, with a separate section on the novel of the Highlands and a concluding chapter on the theory of Scottish fiction. Indexed by persons and a few subjects. Praised for its scope and command of the topic, this work is the standard history of the Scottish novel. Reviews: John Clubbe, JEGP: Journal of English and Germanic Philology 78.3 (1979): 439–42; Cairns Craig, Studies in Scottish Literature 15 (1980): 302–10; David Daiches, Nineteenth-Century Fiction 34.1 (1979): 75–78.


Guides to Primary Works[edit]

Priscilla Bawcutt has ceased working on the first-line index described in “A First-Line Index of Early Scottish Verse,” Studies in Scottish Literature 26 (1991): 254–69.

Guides to Scholarship and Criticism[edit]


Glen, Duncan. The Poetry of the Scots: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide to Poetry in Gaelic, Scots, Latin, and English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1991. 149 pp. PR8561.G58 016.8091.

A highly selective bibliography of works, through 1990, by and about Scottish poets. Entries are organized in eight divisions: background studies (including sections for dictionaries, bibliographies, general and social histories of Scotland, general background studies, histories of Scottish literature, studies of languages, general studies of Scottish poetry, general critical studies of Scottish literature); anthologies and magazines; early Scots poetry (to the mid-sixteenth century); Renaissance poets; ballads; eighteenth-century poets; nineteenth-century poets; and twentieth-century poets. The sections on individual poets (which are variously organized within the period divisions) typically cite the best and other important editions, recordings, and a very few studies; some entries are accompanied by brief evaluative comments, with the best edition or recording usually followed by a lengthy assessment of the poet’s canon. Two indexes: poets; persons, anonymous works, subjects. Although highly selective and idiosyncratically organized, Glen offers a starting point for those unfamiliar with Scottish poetry (especially of the twentieth century).