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Prof finds Nessie, obscured writers while on sabbatical in Scotland

When English professor Chris Bittenbender went to Scotland during his sabbatical last year, he expected to research the censored work of Scottish writers. Instead, he found himself doing research on something different.

“I got sidetracked into researching Scottish writers who were obscured but not necessarily censored,” he said.

Bittenbender conducted both his planned and unplanned research at the Scottish Poetry Library and National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

One of those writers is Robert Crawford, Bittenbender’s PhD supervisor at the University of St Andrews. Crawford also runs the Poetry House, which is both a magazine that offers a host of information on different poets and a physical house closely connected to St Andrews.

Bittenbender and his family spent some time with Crawford, and he has written a profile of Crawford for a literary magazine.

Bittenbender also researched Neil Gunn, Kathleen Jamie, and George Mackay Brown, three other Scottish writers. In Gunn’s hometown of Dunbeath, the Bittenbenders visited the Heritage Centre, which carries most of Gunn’s works.

“It was more interesting than any research I’d done in the library,” Bittenbender said. “I rediscovered [Gunn] while I was there.”

Bittenbender’s trip was not just research. He and his family traveled to the Orkney Islands, where Bittenbender researched Brown, an Orkney poet.

“I’d lived [in Scotland] for four years and had never seen the Orkney Islands,” he said.

They also went to Loch Ness, where, he said, “we had lots of Nessie sightings.”

Although Bittenbender’s trip to Scotland took place a year ago, the research that he did there, he said, affects some of the work he is doing now. He is currently working on profiles of Scottish writers for magazines like the Literary Encyclopedia, an online database of literary figures, as well on his book on censorship.

“The interests that [the research] sparked in me contributed to articles I’m writing, especially on George Mackay Brown and Neil Gunn,” said Bittenbender.

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