Professor Gerard Carruthers, is a pre-eminent Scottish Scholar specialising in Scottish Literature. He is accepted worldwide as one of the world’s authorities on Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. As a member of our society, we asked if he would kindly write a synopsis of he he is and what he does. We are proud of his response and happy to have him with us.
Gerard resides in Glasgow, Scotland, but his forebears hail from Kirkcudbrightshire, from Italy and from Ireland. Kirkcudbrightshire, is a historic county, which lay west of Dumfriesshire, as its direct neighbour in what is now classed as Galloway and part of the Dumfries and Galloway region in south-western Scotland.
He comments that; “Many people assume our family name to be English and I am always only too glad to tell them it is Scottish. I work as a literary scholar and one of my minor specialisms is the work of Muriel Spark, whose most famous novel is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), a wonderful book set largely in the 1930s. In that text Jean Brodie laments her dead lover, killed in the Great War, Hugh Carruthers. Dame Muriel clearly knew that Carruthers was a Scottish name“.
Gerard is the Francis Hutcheson Professor of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow, of which he claims to be childishly proud to hold. To be selected in this established chair, named for one of his heroes, who was an Enlightenment philosopher, a Presbyterian clergyman and a great humanist of the early eighteenth century, is a great honour.
Gerard goes on to say that; “For instance, Hutcheson taught that even those who had no knowledge of the Scriptures might go to Heaven if they acted largely on the innate goodness that is in every human being. In that ecumenical spirit for a clan that is predominantly Protestant, I might reflect on two others with my surname and who are like me, Roman Catholic in denomination: Bishop Andrew Carruthers (1770-1852) a chemist and his brother the historian Father James Carruthers (1759-1832), both good Kirkcudbrightshire lads, born near New Abbey in that county“.
Recently he was elected Convenor of the Scottish Catholic Historical Association, but he also works on Calvinism in the eighteenth-century, especially around Thomas Muir of Huntershill (1765-99), a man at the forefront of agitating for greater democracy and shipped to Botany Bay for ‘sedition’ after a shamefully rigged trial in Edinburgh in 1793.
His interest in religious writings in the Protestant context, overlap onto the cradle of Presbyterian, Robert Burns (1759-96), Scotland’s national poet. Indeed, Gerard is the General Editor of the Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns, which will run to ten volumes over the next five years or so, and this project occupies a large part of his research-time as a professor of literature.
Professor Carruthers comments that; “Working on Burns is an exciting and occasionally hair-raising business and I have had anonymous hate-mail, vandalism to my car and I have been threatened with violence over the years for my views on the poet. All I try to do though is be as honest as I can be in my scholarship. For more details on the work of Professor Carruthers and his colleagues on Burns please see: https://burnsc21.glasgow.ac.uk/”.
Gerard also convenes ‘Burns Scotland’ the nationally recognised collection of Robert Burns bringing together national institutions, local county government, museums, libraries and archives all of which have objects, books and documents associated with the poet.
Additionally he is Honorary Advisor to the National Trust for Scotland on our ‘bard’. His expertise allows him to travel several times a year to North America in his Burns work, most especially working in the library of the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Recently I have working a great deal on the fascinating culture of Burns forgers. Beyond his university role, he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and one of their regional champions for the West of Scotland.
Recently Professor Carruthers has been advising Paisley Museum on Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), radical political Scottish poet and one of the ‘fathers’ of North American ornithology. Other projects include his editing of the journal, Scottish Literary Review and his board membership of Scottish PEN (an organisation that champions freedom of expression).
Gerard is not all work and no play and enjoys playing guitar and holds a season ticket holder at Celtic Football Club for which he says is “e greatest Scottish soccer club of all time”!
Here is a select bibliography by Professor Carruthers:
- Gerard Carruthers, Robert Burns (Northcote Publishing, 2006).
- Gerard Carruthers, Scottish Literature (Edinburgh University Press, 2009).
- Gerard Carruthers & Liam McIlvanney (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Scottish Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
- Gerard Carruthers & Don Martin (eds), Thomas Muir of Huntershill: Essays for the Twenty First Century (Humming Bird Press, 2016).
- Gerard Carruthers & Colin Kidd, Literature and Union: Scottish Texts, British Contexts (Oxford University Press, 2018).