Robert Burns Studies

Royal honour for the Centre for Robert Burns Studies

By Áine Allardyce

Their research has rewritten our understanding and knowledge of Scotland’s national bard. In February, the world-leading research of the University's Centre for Robert Burns Studies (CRBS) was honoured by the award of a Queen’s Anniversary Prize, which celebrates excellence in work carried out by UK colleges and universities. 

The centre has cast new light on Robert Burns' life, works, and extraordinary legacy through scholarship that continues to reveal new evidence of his worldwide influence and impact. Nearly 230 years after his death, Burns remains a writer of global renown whose work has given rise to one of the great world cultural phenomena – the Burns Supper. CRBS is now home to the largest concentration of Burns scholars in the world.

Her Majesty The Queen, accompanied by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester, presented the University with its prize at Buckingham Palace in recognition of the scholarship, range and impact of the projects undertaken at the centre, chiefly Editing and Curating Robert Burns for the 21st Century.

burns supper at buckingham palace princess Camilla and Anton muscatelli

The Principal, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, receiving the Queen's Anniversary Prize at Buckingham Palace in February.

Academics at CRBS, speaking after the Buckingham Palace investiture, said: "It means a great deal to us that our interdisciplinary work to research and sustain the educational, cultural, and economic value of Burns' phenomenal legacy has been awarded this very great honour. The Queen’s Anniversary Prize also emphasises Glasgow’s standing as a University at the forefront of the study of Scottish literature and culture."

Major new handbook
The centre’s major focus in recent years has been the Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century project to produce a new, multi-volume edition of Burns’ entire works, published by Oxford University Press. January this year saw the publication of the most recent volume – the largest collection of critical essays on Burns ever published – The Oxford Handbook of Robert Burns.

In January 2020, the Pittock Report on Robert Burns and the Scottish Economy revealed Scotland’s national bard is worth just over £200 million a year to the Scottish economy and the poet’s brand is worth nearly £140 million annually. Then, in 2021, The Burns Supper in History and Today project mapped over 2,500 contemporary Burns Suppers around the globe, including many alumni events. This has provided the broadest, most detailed record of Burns' Night activities ever made to date. CRBS has also worked to ensure Burns’ place in the growing metaverse through work to produce the first-ever Robert Burns Virtual Reality experience with immersive learning platform Edify. This has enabled a global audience to follow in the footsteps of Tam O’Shanter with a virtual visit to Alloway Auld Kirk.

Dr Pauline Mackay, the current CRBS Director and herself an alum of Scottish Literature at UofG, said: "The reason that Burns resonates so powerfully in the 21st century is that, for over 200 years and right up to the present day, people across the world have ensured Burns’ relevance through diverse and evolving commemorations and celebrations of his life, work and cultural legacies. It is this that drives our impactful, interdisciplinary research. The possibilities for further research, teaching and promotion of Robert Burns are limitless."

"Robert Burns led a fascinating life, and his work covers a plethora of themes and issues, appealing to both his contemporaries and us in the 21st century. But it is just as fascinating to explore the ways in which his life, image, and work has formed Scottish identity; been manipulated for political use; inspired art and literature; and impacted global culture." – Hannah Grimshaw, Scottish Literature student and President of the UofG Scottish Literature Society

Global Burns
In recognition of the impact of the Burns research not just across the world, but for our community, the University now holds its alumni Burns Suppers and Burns lectures under the Global Burns umbrella. The centre also launched one of the University’s most successful free online courses – Robert Burns: Poems, Songs and Legacy – which to date has seen over 30,000 learners worldwide taught by our leading Burns scholars.

"It is quite remarkable, across cultures and creeds, that people continue to find a lot to identify with Robert Burns and his writings," says Founding Director of the CRBS, Professor Gerard Carruthers. "People continue to ask me what else there is to discover about Burns, but as time goes by, more and more turns up to reveal new insights on his works and life, especially in the age of the internet."

This article was first published April 2024.

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