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  • Thomas Crawford 1920–2014
  • J. Derrick McClure (bio)

Thomas (Tom) Crawford is a key figure in the recent history of Scottish literary studies. As scholar, critic, editor and indefatigable campaigner, he contributed materially to the goal of obtaining for Scottish literature the place it deserves in the academic world; and as a dedicated and inspiring teacher he aroused the interest of a whole generation of students, several of whom have gone on to make their own impressions on the field.

His education was at Dunfermline High School and Edinburgh University, and his first long-term teaching post was in the English department at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He stayed there from 1953 to 1965, progressing from Lecturer through Senior Lecturer to Assistant Professor; and then returned to Scotland to take up a post at Aberdeen University, where he remained until his retirement in 1985.

In the late 1960s Scottish literature was still the poor relation in school and university ‘English’ departments and in the academic world as a whole; but the ice was visibly melting. Glasgow University’s Department of Scottish History and Literature was about to bifurcate, producing what is—incredibly — still the only self-contained Department of Scottish Literature; at Edinburgh the heroic efforts of A. J. Aitken and David Murison were ensuring the steady progress of the two great multi-volume Scots dictionaries; and at Aberdeen the distinguished Byron scholar Andrew Rutherford, then head of the English Department, made a policy of ensuring that at least one Scottish text was included in general literature courses at all levels, and that the ‘English language’ courses included a measure of attention to Scots. With Tom Crawford in post, the place of Scottish literature in Aberdeen’s curriculum was greatly strengthened. Specialising in the literature of the post-Union period, Crawford’s work at Aberdeen was complemented by that of Matthew McDiarmid, who had arrived there shortly before and whose métier was Scottish literature of the Middle Ages and [End Page 129] Renaissance: for more than a decade those two distinguished scholars led the field in Aberdeen’s teaching programme. Undergraduate teaching of Scottish literature flourished, and a taught M.Litt. course was introduced in the early 1970s. Less formally, fascinating discussions took place over forenoon coffees in the staff club; likewise during social evenings at the Crawford home with postgraduate students, where the kindly presence of Jean, Tom’s wife and lifelong helpmeet, added to the pleasure of the gatherings. Many former students and colleagues surely treasure those memories of a vanished academic scene.

Not only at Aberdeen but in the world beyond, the burgeoning field of Scottish literary criticism was ready to profit from Crawford’s return to Scotland. The Association for Scottish Literary Studies, at first a collaborative venture of the universities, was established in 1970, Crawford being one of its founding members. He was the Association’s first secretary, later becoming its president; and also the first editor of its organ the Scottish Literary Journal. The ASLS, as no reader of this note needs to be reminded, had a dynamic effect on the promotion of Scottish studies at home and abroad; and Crawford, contributing articles and reviews, as well as his meticulous editorship, to the journal, presenting papers and chairing sessions at the many conferences held under the ASLS’s auspices, and providing wise and politic advice at Council meetings, was a key participant in all its expanding range of activities.

His own publications represent scholarship of the highest quality. His monographs on Burns and Scott have the unchallenged status of landmarks in the field; and a long-term project, involving annual visits to Yale University, was the editing of the archive of Boswell papers held in the library there. He was perhaps the first scholar to recognise and give full critical attention to the subtlety and complexity of Burns’s use of language, demolishing the grossly simplistic notion of a two-way opposition between ‘Scots’ and ‘English’ and recognising not only that each of those two broadly distinguished language forms has a wide range of internal variations but that the boundary between them is highly permeable: that is, that Burns’s poetic...


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