James Hogg Exhibition and Conference: The return of the Ettrick Shepherd

Duncan Hotchkiss
(University of Stirling)

‘From the cities of Australia, to the wide Canadian plains,
Souters aye return to Selkirk, when the roses bloom again.’
‘The Roses’, a traditional song of Selkirk Common Riding

This summer as the peony roses come to bloom, James Hogg will return to Scotland. The University of Stirling is hosting a three-month exhibition (15 May – 22 July), ‘James Hogg in the World’, to coincide with the biennial international James Hogg Society Conference. The exhibition traces the international impact of Hogg, which, to borrow Meiko O’Halloran’s characterisation from her excellent recent monograph, was truly kaleidoscopic. Hogg the balladeer, the poet, the novelist, the short story writer, the playwright, the musician, the essayist, the sermon writer and the sheep-diseases pamphleteer: Hogg in all these guises continues to be read and debated, 200 years after he left his ailing farm in Ettrick and travelled to Edinburgh (reportedly on foot) in pursuit of a career in literature.

Displaying a fascinating selection of material and literary artefacts, the exhibition shows the global cultural reach of Hogg and his work, dramatically visualised on a large tactile map custom-made by the artist Calum Stirling. Items on display include Hogg’s very own fiddle, a first-edition of his 1824 novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, personal correspondence by the Nobel Laureate Alice Munro, along with early American editions of Hogg’s work, and letters to his literary contacts overseas. Hogg’s remarkable ability to engage diverse readerships and cross class boundaries is explored in a section on ‘Audiences’, while the complex connections between his work and contemporary debates over the abolition of slavery in British colonies and the U.S. are examined in the context of recent research into Scotland’s involvement in slavery and the Atlantic slave trade. The exhibition is itself part of a broader programme of public engagement, including at a local high school in which fifth and sixth-year pupils will take part in a workshop on Hogg’s short stories, and will create a short film inspired by Hogg’s ‘Cameronian Preacher’s Tale’ and a text by his collateral descendant, Alice Munro.

The conference programme is currently being put together, and will feature research on Hogg from both academic and independent scholars who are coming to Stirling from throughout Scotland and the UK, as well as from Canada, the United States, the Czech Republic, and New Zealand – including Hogg’s great-great-grandson Bruce Gilkison, author of Walking with James Hogg: The Ettrick Shepherd’s Journeys Through Scotland (2016).

When the curtain closes on the conference and on the exhibition, and the visiting international scholars return home and the pupils leave school to step out into the world, they will each take with them something of James Hogg. On the bicentenary year of the launch of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, a periodical in which Hogg was compartmentalised and mocked for being labouring-class and for speaking with an accent that clashed with Edinburgh’s literary elite, it is significant that we are celebrating Hogg’s continued global influence. A fitting testament to a writer who, as his character John Miller explained in The Spy, will always ‘confound the bodies’.1 Of course, none of this would have been imaginable without the foundational work of the late Douglas Mack, formerly Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Stirling.

‘James Hogg, our contemporary: at last we are catching up with him’ – Prof. Ian Duncan, University of California.2

‘James Hogg in the World’ is free and open to the public from 15/5/17 – 23/7/17, in the main crush-hall of the University of Stirling’s Pathfoot building. The ‘Locating Hogg’ conference will be held at the University of Stirling, 19th-21st July. The exhibition is funded by an AHRC research grant, with additional support from the University of Stirling.


1James Hogg, ‘The Spy’s encounter with John Miller’, The Spy, ed Gillian Hughes (Edinburgh: Edin-burgh University Press, 2000) p. 121.

2Ian Duncan, ‘Introduction: Hogg and his worlds’, in Edinburgh Companion to James Hogg, ed Ian Duncan and Douglas Mack (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012) p. 8.