It is a global phenomenon – a tale of love across the centuries that has brought the scenery of Scotland to a new worldwide audience.
Over six seasons and nine novels this phenomenal time-travelling adventure series with its roots in Scottish history has turned its cast into superstars, made its author into a heroine, created a global legion of fans and put Scotland on the map for a world readership and TV audience.
The expected launch of Season 7 of the TV series this summer offers a timely opportunity to reflect on Outlander and its cultural impact through literature and television. The University of Glasgow will host a major conference to explore the history, politics, culture, languages, clothes and music featured in the series. The International Outlander Conference will take place from 18-22 July and promises to be a landmark event.
Author Dr Diana Gabaldon, who will be a keynote speaker at the Glasgow conference, said: “I’m honoured (and very excited) that this conference is taking place under the sponsorship of the University of Glasgow. A tremendous amount of work and organisation has gone into it, and I’m so looking forward to being a part of it!”
Gabaldon’s blockbuster historical fantasy series about Claire Randall (played by Caitriona Balfe on TV), an Englishwoman from the 1940s who travels back in time to 18th-century Scotland and falls for outlaw Jamie Fraser (played by Glasgow honorary graduate Sam Heughan), has sold 50 million copies around the world.
Since the first novel was published in 1991, Outlander has become one of the world’s most popular fiction series, and since 2014 a long-running popular television series has added legions of new fans and boosted its status as an international cultural sensation.
The University of Glasgow has a unique place in Outlander – it doubles as Harvard in the TV series, and several academics from a range of disciplines have been directly involved in the production as researchers, advisors and even cast members. The Outlander novels have been scrupulously researched by their author and there is a vast range of expertise and consultation involved in the making of the series.
There is an equally diverse array of potential areas for future exploration that will help build Outlander Studies as an interdisciplinary field at the University of Glasgow. Scholarship thus far has focused on a range of topics including literary and screen tourism, race, sexuality, slavery, war, medicine, witchcraft, transnationalism and the Scottish diaspora, as well as fans and fandom.
Professor Willy Maley, Professor of Renaissance Studies (English Literature), at the University’s School of Critical Studies, said: “Scotland not only has a great tradition of historical writing from Walter Scott to Dorothy Dunnett, but offers the ideal setting for fiction that combines adventure, fantasy and romance.
“Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series was inspired by Scotland and in turn has helped put Scotland on the map, boosting tourism and engagement with the languages of Scotland as well as interest in the country’s complicated past, from Jacobite resistance to diasporic identities and colonial complicity.”
Celtic & Gaelic Lecturer Gillebrìde MacMillan/Gillebrìde Mac ‘IlleMhaoil played Gwyllyn the Bard in Season 1 where he enthralled TV viewers with traditional Gaelic songs and tales.
MacMillan, a Senior Lecturer in Gaelic/ Àrd-òraidiche ann an Gàidhlig at the University of Glasgow’s School of Humanities/ Sgoil nan Daonnachdan, said: “Huge opportunities have opened up for me since I was first cast as Gwyllyn the Bard in Outlander. I just love that Gaelic language, songs and culture have been given a worldwide audience through Outlander. I am looking forward to the conference which will bring all the many disciplines at the University of Glasgow together to look at Outlander from an educational and academic perspective.”
It promises to be an exciting, vibrant and hugely popular conference with an excellent selection of papers and presentations from an international line-up of academics and independent scholars. Keynote speakers for the conference are Dr Diana Gabaldon, Professor Murray Pittock, Dr Katherine Byrne, and Professor Sir Geoff Palmer.
Diana will be talking about her world-changing books; Professor Pittock, University of Glasgow Pro Vice-Principal and SAHA’s co-chair, will speak about Culloden drawing on his ground-breaking book on the battle, a crucial starting point for Outlander; Professor Sir Geoff Palmer, who is a pioneering human rights activist, will speak on the debates around Scotland and slavery; and Dr Byrne, of Ulster University whose expertise is in Television Studies, hones in on key themes depicted in the series, including medicine and sexual violence.
Cultural events will include an exhibition of Jacobite Medals, Outlander tours, a ‘Night at the Museum’ event, and even a ceilidh.
Learn more about the Outlander Conference via its website.