Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation – alive again

Published: 2 November 2023

After a two-year project, the Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation (BOSLIT), which records Scottish literature in translation, has been revitalised and given a new digital home that can be accessed from across the globe.

A selection of  front covers books by Scottish authors translated into different langagues

For generations, Scottish texts have travelled around the world and been translated into numerous languages.

After a two-year project, the Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation (BOSLIT), which records Scottish literature in translation, has been revitalised and given a new digital home that can be accessed from across the globe.

The new digital BOSLIT is officially launched on Friday 3 November with over 32,600 records in 120 languages mapping literature by Scots writers in all its forms from the Middle Ages to the mid-2000s including novels, short stories, poetry, drama, and a limited amount of non-fiction.

Sir Ian Rankin, one of the Scottish writers who features on BOSLIT with books that have been translated into at least 22 languages including French (19 items), Dutch (14), and German (13), said: "Scottish Literature has rarely been in ruder health and continues to be celebrated and studied around the world, which is why BOSLIT is so important, shining a light on our nation's international reach and detailing so many cultures and languages which have shown an interest in our writers and their works."

A network of experts, led by University of Glasgow and funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, worked to revitalise BOSLIT and explore its future sustainability over the last two years. The network has pulled together key scholars in Scottish literature and information studies, alongside librarians and bibliographers, and wider international networks and partners in publishing and translation studies.

The University of Glasgow BOSLIT team said: “BOSLIT is both a national treasure, mapping Scotland's influence on world culture, and a treasure trove of data with potential to guide international publishers of Scottish literature in future decades. To have reformed a network of scholars, translators, and publishers committed to ensuring BOSLIT's future is an achievement we can all be proud of.”  

Kirsteen McCue, Professor of Scottish Literature and Song Culture at the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts & Humanities, co-lead on the BOSLIT project, said: “It was our aim to breathe new life back into this amazing resource and to capture its history and celebrate the labours of the former BOSLIT team.

“This resource has been dormant for a while and, for the good of Scottish Literature as a whole, it’s vitally important to make this information available again and to introduce it to new generations of scholars, translators and publishers.

“We have managed to do this with the help of digital specialists and have conducted numerous conversations with key stakeholders to work out ways in which we can grow the resource and make it sustainable for the future.”

The new digital project has built a new website, hosted at the University of Glasgow, which maps the full history of BOSLIT. In order to engage new interest in the usefulness of this resource, the project team also commissioned a set of blogs about Scottish writers and their texts in translation, highlighting information from BOSLIT, and noting gaps and further opportunities for development and data capture.

Lorna Hughes, Professor of Information Studies at UofG, and co-lead on the project, said: “Our work with BOSLIT is a case study for re-using and re-imagining existing data resources, showcasing the impact of using digital tools and methods with communities of experts to enrich data, and to create greater international visibility for Scottish literature on digital platforms.”

After launching the new resource to the public on 3 November 2023, the team wants to do more to develop BOSLIT further, by filling gaps in the data and bringing the resource fully up to date.

The network has also included specialists in crowd sourcing and has explored the possibilities of the longer-term sustainability of BOSLIT, including working closely with European colleagues who have similar national bibliographic projects.

Asif Khan, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library, said: “The Scottish Poetry Library welcomes the relaunch of the BOSLIT database. Tessa Ransford, the Scottish Poetry Library’s visionary founding director, was involved in the planning meetings that led to the establishment of the BOSLIT initiative in 1993.

“Tom Hubbard, our first Librarian, joined BOSLIT’s staff team in 2000.  Today’s iteration of the database identifies over 8,000 Scottish poetry works in translation. This amounts to around a quarter of the records in the directory and is testimony to the prestige and influence that Scottish Poetry in English, Scots and Scottish Gaelic has held - and continues to hold - globally.” 

Professor Murray Pittock MAE FRSE, founding Convenor and Chair of Trustees, International Association for the Study of Scottish Literatures, said: “BOSLIT is a global resource which is essential to understanding the footprint of Scotland's literature and culture worldwide. Without it, we cannot 'see ourselves as others see us'. Congratulations to Kirsteen and her team for bringing access back to this wonderful database.”

Joe Marshall who is Associate Director of Collections Management at National Library of Scotland, said: “The National Library of Scotland is pleased to have been a supporting partner on the BOSLIT project.  The historic dataset was compiled at the Library over many years and is now available via our Data Foundry.  It is exciting to see this project put the resource to new uses and to create new opportunities for the study of Scottish writing in translation.”

The Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation

The BOSLIT project began initially in 1993 under the direction of chairman Professor Peter France and with a team of key individuals in Scottish literary life. With initial support from the Scottish Arts Council and involving key librarians at the National Library of Scotland, its first two phases of work were undertaken with funding from the British Academy and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, supporting two key full-time bibliographers between 1994 and 2004.

Since this time, the database has grown with the help of a team of dedicated volunteers. From 2018 the data has only been available as part of the National Library of Scotland’s Data Foundry, which allow users to access the library’s collection in machine-readable form.

The two-year network, funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh between 2021 and 2023, has enabled the team to relaunch the database as a new Digital Humanities resource housed at the University of Glasgow, home to the only standalone unit for research and teaching of Scottish Literature in the world and also home to one of the UK’s most significant collections of digital humanities research projects.

The new digital BOSLIT website can be found by clicking here. 


Stats and Facts about BOSLIT

  • Total entries so far = at least 32,606 
  • ‘Scottish’ has so far been determined by the following definition:

To qualify for inclusion in the BOSLIT database, an author should satisfy at least two out of five criteria: 

1) being born in Scotland;

2) having at least one Scottish parent;

3) being educated in Scotland or spending most of their adult life there;

4) self-identifying as Scottish;

5) being described as Scottish in standard reference sources.

Please note: There are some anomalies from the past and there are many more recent authors still to be added.

  • There are at least 120 languages on BOSLIT.
  • Top three languages overall for Scottish literary texts are: German (5139) English (4256) and French (3889)
  • Languages with fewest entries include Bosnian, Cornish, Hawaiian     
  • There are over 12,400 individual creators/translators listed.
  • The most popular Scottish literary text in translation is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (first published as a book in 1883) running to 1104 translations at present and it is followed by Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe of 1819 which is listed in 590 translations.
  • The oldest author listed is Scottish mathematician and scholar Michael Scot (author of a book on human physiognomy translated in 1494).
  • The first writer in the database is George Buchanan, whose poems were translated into French by famous French poet Joachim du Bellay in 1552.
  • The most recent entries are Gaelic poems of Marc Mac an Tuairneir translated into English in 2018.
  • Two of our Bloggers for the project: UofG PhD students Carlos Llaza and Kaiyue He have both provided substantial lists of entries for Robert Burns in South American Spanish and Muriel Spark in Chinese, showing that there is plenty of room for more research outside Europe. While another of our bloggers, UofG PhD student Ruggero Bianchin, had his project blown open by discovering additional Scottish poetry texts he didn’t know about on BOSLIT 

First published: 2 November 2023