New digital map will chart the history and growth of Burns Suppers


22 January 2020
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Academics at the University of Glasgow plan to pull together a worldwide map of contemporary Burns Supper activity, showing how such events have changed and grown since the first Burns Supper was held in 1801, by friends of Robert Burns.

Today it is estimated that over nine and a half million people around the world take part in a Burns Supper every year.

The new project will create a digital map of Burns Supper activity, past and present, with detailed information on format, food and drink products used, speeches, toasts, all elements of the performance by men, women and children over all the many and diverse communities involved.

A worldwide phenomenon

Professor Gerard Carruthers (pictured), Co-Director of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies based at the University’s College of Arts, who will be leading The History of the Burns Supper project said: “Robert Burns is a world writer whose life and work have given rise to one of the great world cultural phenomena – the Burns Supper. It is a testimony to the bard’s enduring appeal not only within Scotland but around the world. And at the centre of the supper of course is his great body of work from poetry to song which speaks so strongly to people. 

      QUICK LINK: How to create the perfect Burns Supper

“On 21 July 1801, close friends of Burns held the first Burns supper to mark the fifth anniversary of the bard’s death. They would never have guessed nearly 220 years on that this would have grown into such a worldwide phenomenon.

“We feel it is fitting to launch this research project during Burns Season 2020 and we will produce our findings across 2021-22, as we mark the 220th anniversary of the first Burns Supper.

“By the end of the project we aim to have have a one-stop shop for everything you want to know about the Burns Supper, past and present.”

Through the generosity of Frank and Susan Shaw of Atlanta, the research project, which will run from 2020-2022 is being carried out by the Centre for Robert Burns Studies (CRBS), which has the world’s largest concentration of Burns experts.

A global export

Bill Nolan, Secretary of the Irvine Burns Club, one of the oldest continually existing Burns Clubs in the world and Immediate Past President of the World Burns Federation, said: “Burns Suppers are a very special part of Scotland’s social fabric that we have exported successfully to the rest of the world. I can’t think of any other writer or poet who is remembered annually in this way and that’s why Robert Burns is uniquely Scotland’s international icon.”

“It’s a myth that there’s any formal protocol that has to be followed other than the basic one that every Burns Supper has to be fun and that’s easily assessed by asking one question ‘Would Robert Burns have enjoyed this event?’ To which the answer should always be a resounding ‘Yes - and he’s coming back next year’"

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