Anne Fertig is a first-year doctoral student at UNC Chapel Hill. She was a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar at the University of Glasgow from 2013-2014, where she received two Masters, a MLitt in Scottish History (2014) and an MPhil in English literature (2015). She has also co-published a book, ‘A Song of Glasgow Town’: The Collected Works of Marion Bernstein (Association of Scottish Literary Studies, 2013).
[Originally published 2016 May 17 by Michael Newton]
(1) Can you tell us a little about your background? Where are you from and how did you first learn about Scottish Gaelic and get an interest in it?
I’m from Florida originally. I don’t have a Scottish background; in fact, my family has lived in Florida since the American Revolution. I first discovered Gaelic music in high school. I stumbled upon a Julie Fowlis song on a YouTube playlist. As I began exploring other Gaelic singers, I found that I really enjoyed the language. I thought it sounded beautiful, and so I started reading more about the culture and the language. Everything about it fascinated me.
(2) Why did you go to study in Scotland? What was that experience like and what did you gain from that in relation to your research ambitions?
I had always wanted to travel there. While attending Rollins College, I was invited to participate on a student-faculty collaborative research project on the Glaswegian poet Marion Bernstein. My professor, Ed Cohen, had no idea I was so interested in Scotland when he invited me to the project; it was just a fortunate coincidence. I spent three summers on this project, prowling through Glaswegian newspapers from the 1880s and immersing myself scholarship about Scotland. It was my first realization not only that I wanted to work in academia but that I could pursue my love of Scottish history and literature as a career. This realization is what pushed me to start taking long-distance Gaelic lessons.
Scotland’s literary traditions come from such a fascinating lineage. Living in Glasgow for two years really grounded both my academic and personal interests in this field. Scotland is a beautiful country, and I took advantage of every opportunity I could to explore and learn. I managed the hostel on the Isle of Ulva for two weeks; I went to Celtic Connections, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and a Runrig concert; I took both Ulpan and a university course in Gaelic. It’s easy to see how the Highlands were romanticized as a sublime landscape. At the same time, stumbling upon the ruins of an abandoned village always brought haunting reminders of the Clearances and mass emigration. It’s such a unique place in the world.
(3) What line of research are you hoping to pursue and how does Gaelic fit into that picture? How do you think a knowledge of Gaelic could inform or even transform scholarly work in the areas you’re interested in, given that so little has been done with it to date?
My main interest is historiography. I’m fascinated by how histories are written, manufactured, interpreted, and mythologized. I am particularly interested in how literary genres, like poetry, often function as a type of historiography. My angle is often a comparative approach between Gaelic, Anglo, and Scots traditions. I feel that much of Scottish studies is polarized between one linguistic tradition or another, and more needs to be done on how these traditions have functioned together and influenced one another.
Much of my work so far has looked at how Gaelicised imaginings of the nation entered the Scottish and British consciousness after the publication of The Poems of Ossian. Gaelic is absolutely essential to this work. I think it is vital to understand how the Highland community represented and transmitted their own histories without relying on the 18th century perceptions of outsiders. There are many myths about the Highlands that were conceived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and such work helps me understand which elements were drawn from Gaelic culture and which elements were invented as part of a broader Romantic imagination.
(4) From your own experience thus far, would you say that there is much support for or knowledge of Gaelic in the North American academy as a whole? Are faculty and administration equipped to support research that young scholars want to do in the field, or encouraging of that work? Why or why not?
Scottish literature as a whole does not have a large presence in the American academy (with a few exceptions, of course). My professors are very supportive of what I do, but they often admit that they themselves don’t have much background in this area. The sad fact is, in order to get a job after graduation, I can’t market myself as a Gaelic scholar; I will have to rely on my work in Enlightenment and Romanticism studies. It’s a balancing act. I am pursuing broader studies in British literature, which I enjoy, but I have to pursue my passion for Gaelic and Scottish literature on the side.
(5) Do you think that there is interest or demand among students to learn about Scottish topics, Scottish Gaelic language, literature and culture in particular? Is there a generational shift in perceptions or interests?
People are definitely interested in Scotland! Whether they have Scottish ancestry or enjoy Outlander and Brave, they definitely have an interest. What they lack are the resources to learn about Scotland.
(6) How do you think an organization like GaelicUSA might be able to best support and facilitate Scottish Gaelic Studies in the academy?
I think it is extremely useful to raise funding for an endowed chair in the US. With funding continuously being cut across the humanities, it can hard to pursue marginalized subjects without financial support. At the same time, having a digital presence and reaching out to people through educational digital humanities projects would be extremely enlightening as well. An organization like GaelicUSA can facilitate networks of speakers and learners, which is extremely useful as it can hard to practice and use Gaelic in the US.