IT was intended to capture the stories of traditions, a way of life, and dialects feared to be dying out seven decades ago.

When Calum MacLean, an ethnographer from the University of Edinburgh’s newly formed School of Scottish Studies recorded the memories of a Highland roadman in the depths of winter in 1951, little did he know it would become a precious reserve of rich stories and cultural history.

Now 70 years on the stories have become part of the extensive collection of oral tradition that Mr Maclean, his contemporaries such as Hamish Henderson and other members of staff have gathered in the years since and brought about the School of Scottish Studies Archives.

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Celebrations will be held to mark the mark this exceptional university resource this year. The programme will bring to life this unique cultural treasure trove, which includes sound recordings, photographs, film and rare historic document.

Curator Cathlin MacAulay, said the archive is a place “where artistry and everyday life come together”.

Ms MacAulay said: “The archives capture the voices of 'ordinary' people describing their day-to-day existence –work, family, food, housing, transport, agriculture, weather lore.

“We have the songs, stories and tunes that were passed from generation to generation through the oral tradition, the gems that brighten the hours of darkness and the long day’s work.

“The immediacy of the spoken word and the evocative images in the photographic collections make for a moving and intimate connection to the past. The Archives are a place to find out more about our cultures, communities, histories and artistic practices, to reflect on and appreciate the very rich diversity of life.”

Kit Sked, Blacksmith, Cousland Smithy, Dalkeith, 1987. Photo by Ian MacKenzie.

Kit Sked, Blacksmith, Cousland Smithy, Dalkeith, 1987. Photo by Ian MacKenzie.

The School of Scottish Studies was established in 1951 to collect material that reflected elements of Scottish life which many feared were about to be lost in a fast-changing world. They include material recorded in dialects no longer spoken.

From the early 1950s researchers and students carried out fieldwork, travelling the length and breadth of Scotland.

Their voyage of discovery took them to farming and fishing communities, towns and cities. They listened to people’s stories, asked searching questions and unearthed hidden cultural gems to capture a snapshot of their lives.

Field workers collected songs, music, tales and poems, and recorded place names, folklore, customs and everyday scenes that would soon vanish.

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For Scottish Ethnology Lecturer Lori Watson, who is also an acclaimed fiddle player and traditional singer, there is something very special about this resource – particularly the sound archive.

“Once you get those headphones on and disappear into the lives and experiences of other people as they share parts of themselves, their families, communities, their work, beliefs, hopes and sorrows: it is infinitely relatable and captivating," said Ms Watson.

“As part of the celebrations this year, I’ll be drawing together and highlighting music works created in response to the sound archive and facilitating some new ones too.”

Events celebrating the 70th anniversary will include talks and panel sessions that showcase prized audio and visual archives and will include people involved in their creation, or re-use.

Mrs Annie Gillies, St Kilda, 1938. Photo by Robert Atkinson.

Mrs Annie Gillies, St Kilda, 1938. Photo by Robert Atkinson.

Also lined up is a contemporary Gaelic film screening and an immersive Google Arts & Culture story – an online platform of high-resolution images and video that celebrates the archives.

It is hoped the events will provide fresh perspectives on this vital resource – and its vast array of recordings of songs, music, stories, poems, folklore and oral history in Scots, Gaelic and English.

Neil Martin, the university’s Head of Celtic and Scottish Studies, believes the archives are a precious storehouse of Scotland’s cultural history.

Mr Martin said: “The archives are chiefly in the form of sound recordings, yet they are mute, silent, until we engage with them. What moves me most is that we enter into a kind of communion with the voices of those who lived before us, perhaps long before us. There is an intimacy to it. We hear their songs, their stories, their experiences of love and war and work, of the simple business of living.

“These are vivid glimpses of lives lived, lives which, like most, would never have made it into print. To use the Archives is to engage in a kind of time travel; a journey to a better understanding of who we are and where we come from.”

Complementing this treasury of more than 30,000 recordings is an extensive archive of photographs, as well as film and manuscripts. Alongside these collections, a much-loved library has developed supporting both their research and the teaching programme.