William Donaldson is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen (M.A., Ph.D.) and worked for twenty five years with Britain’s Open University before coming to M.I.T. as a visiting lecturer in 2010.  He has written on the political song culture of the Scottish Jacobites, tracing the creation of the semi-mythical figure “Bonnie Prince Charlie”.  He pioneered the use of newspaper sources to study the popular culture of Victorian Scotland and in particular its use of vernacular Scots to deal with the whole range of the contemporary world.  He has written also in the field of traditional music, being author of two books on the music and history of the Highland bagpipe.  He is currently at work on an online variorum edition of pìobaireachd (the classical music of the pipes) which returns to the original manuscript and early printed sources, very cavalierly interpreted—when not actually ignored—by the compilers of the “official” published edition.   He is the author of several prize-winning books:  Popular Literature in Victorian Scotland (Aberd. 1986) which won the Blackwell Prize; The Jacobite Song (Aberd.1988) which won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award and was runner-up for the Folklore Society’s Katherine Briggs Memorial Prize; and The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society (Edinr., 2000, with later editions 2008, 2013) which was voted joint Research Book of the Year by the Saltire Society.  In 2013 he joined a number of leading Scottish writers in being elected an honorary member of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies.
MIT OCW Published Courses
21L.310 Bestsellers: Out for the Count (Fall 2018)
21L.430 Popular Culture and Narrative: Use and Abuse of the Fairy Tale (Fall 2015)


Eighteenth to twentieth century Scottish literature and popular culture; Scottish traditional music especially that of the Highland bagpipe and the links between words and music in the Scottish song tradition.


Popular Literature in Victorian Scotland: Language, Fiction and the Press  Aberdeen University Press, 1986
The Jacobite Song: Political Myth and National Identity Aberdeen University Press, 1988
The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society 1750-1950: transmission, change and the concept of tradition  Tuckwell Press 2000, 2nd edn. Birlinn 2008, 2013
Pipers: a guide to the players and music of the Highland bagpipe Birlinn, 2005
Grampian Hairst: an Anthology of North-East Prose (jointly edited with Douglas Young), Aberdeen University Press, 1981
David Rorie: Poems and Prose  Aberdeen University Press, 1983
William Alexander, The Laird of Drammochdyle  Aberdeen University Press, 1986
The Language of the People: Scots Prose from the Victorian Revival  Aberdeen University Press, 1989
William Alexander, My Uncle the Baillie  Tuckwell Press, 1995
Set Tunes Series (an online variorum edition of pìobaireachd, the classical music of the Highland bagpipe)
Selected Articles:
“Bonny Highland Laddie: the Making of a Myth”, in Scottish Literary Journal, III, 1976
‘”The Glencairn Connection: Robert Burns and Scottish Politics 1786-1796”, in Studies in Scottish Literature, XVI, 1981
“Popular Fiction in Victorian Scotland: Gavin Greig as Novelist”, Cencrastus, XV111, 1985
“William Alexander and North-East Literature”, Aberdeen University Review,  LV,  3, No. 191
“Change and Invariance in the Traditional Performing Arts” Northern Scotland, XVII (1997).
“Re-thinking Popular Antiquities”, Review of Scottish Culture, 2009
Thirty-four articles in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, chiefly on Scottish traditional musicians, songwriters and song collectors
‘Chapter entitled “Poetry on the Streets” in Jack Lynch, ed., Oxford Handbook of British Poetry 1660-1800 (OUP, 2016).’
“John Byrne’s The Slab Boys: Technicolored Hell-hole in a Town Called Malice”, in Studies in Scottish Literature, 41 (1) 2015, 221-236.
“Andrew Lang: a World we have Lost”, in Studies in Scottish Literature, 43 (1) 2017, 155-165.


Subjects taught the current academic year:

Subjects taught in recent years:

21L.023[J] Folk Music of the British Isles and North America (Fall 2019)

21L.310 Bestsellers: Out For the Count (Fall 2018)

21L.430 Popular Culture and Narrative: The Use & Abuse of the Fairytales (Spring 2020)

21L.430 Popular Culture and Narrative: The Use and Abuse of the Fairytale (Spring 2018)

21L.430 Popular Culture and Narrative: Use and Abuse of the Fairy Tale (Fall 2016)

Additional Information

A long-term player of the Highland bagpipe and pupil of traditional masters R. B. Nicol and R. U. Brown “The Bobs of Balmoral”, William Donaldson was associated with three other students at the University of Aberdeen in establishing the first world endurance record for bagpipe playing in 1969 (50 hours, authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records).