Internationally renowned social historian Eric R. Cregeen (1921–83) was one of UK’s prime movers in recording oral history. Rigorously trained by the Irish Folklore Commission in the 1940s (while recording for the Manx Folk-Life Survey), Cregeen settled in Scotland (1954) taking up posts with the University of Glasgow then, in 1966, with Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies.
Eric R. Cregeen worked tirelessly in the West Highlands and Islands of Scotland, where he recorded the way of life of people who lived off the land and sea. He catalogued his tapes and deposited them in the Archives of the School of Scottish Studies, until his sudden death in 1983 robbed Scotland of an outstanding oral historian, folklorist and scholar. Historiographer Royal of Scotland, Professor T. C. Smout described Cregeen as “a social scientist of the highest order… a very fine historian and a very fine anthropologist… far in advance of this time … no one since has put the two disciplines together so effectively to illuminate the life of the Highlands.”
Besides his recordings and published writings, Cregeen’s legacy included over 30 fieldwork notebooks, which remained with his family until 2015 when Mrs Lily Cregeen handed over a box of fieldwork journals to Margaret Bennett (former lecturer at the School of Scottish Studies), a Trustee of the charity Grace Notes Scotland (“dedicated to handing on tradition”). With a grant from Heritage Lottery the journals were digitized, and a team of transcribers typed over 4,000 pages of oral history fieldwork notes. After the project was completed, Margaret Bennett collaborated with publisher Gonzalo Mazzei (Grace Note Publications) to produce 9 volumes shown here: The Cregeen Journals (1939–82).
A set of the journals has been added to the Special Collections of the University of Edinburgh, and an on-line database is planned. The University of Glasgow is also incorporating Cregeen’s work into their database DASG (Digital Archive of Scottish Gaelic), and it is hoped that researchers will enjoy further access to the work of this very fine oral historian.
Further enquiries regarding the 9 volume set may be made via firstname.lastname@example.org
Reflections on the project:
Talks and exhibitions were well attended, and local history groups took part in workshops.
To begin with, few people had heard of Cregeen, but some were very excited when they recognised family members among the photos. One young man ‘met’ his grandfather in the journals, photos and recordings, and, considering the grandfather had died before he was born, he was deeply moved to discover the wealth of tradition that Cregeen had recorded from him. As it happened, a film-maker from BBC Alba also attended, and when he saw the powerful effect of this, he took up the ‘story’ and then made an hour-long documentary film, which has just been completed and telecast on BBC Alba (Feb. 25, available on iplayer).
Other outputs: The project produced 6 exhibitions, starting with an opening exhibition at the National Library of Scotland (Edinburgh) and a final exhibition in Lochmaddy, North Uist (April 1 to May 30, 2018)
The project also included 10 oral history workshops for schools in the areas where Cregeen worked.
Dr G. Mazzei
Grace Note Publications
‘Grange of Locherlour’
Crieff, PH7 4JS
Photographs by Gonzalo Mazzei, used with permission.