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Telling the story of telling the story: capturing intangible heritage storytelling on the origins of malt whisky in the Cabrach.

Reid, Peter H.; Pirie, Elliot; Ironside, Rachael



This research explored the storytelling (collection, curation, and use) in the Cabrach, a remote Scottish glen. The aim of the research was to capture the methodological process of storytelling and curation of heritage knowledge through the lens of the Cabrach's whisky distilling history, a central part of the area's cultural heritage, tangible and intangible. This research was conceptualised as 'telling the story of telling the story of the Cabrach'. It was concerned with how the history, heritage, historiography, and testimony associated with the parish could be harvested, made sense of, and subsequently used. The study was epistemological in nature and the research was concerned with how heritage knowledge is gathered, curated, and understood. It was built around collection of knowledge through expert testimony from Colin Mackenzie and Alan Winchester, who have extensively researched aspects of life in the Cabrach. This was done using a series of theme-based but free-flowing conversational workshop involving participants and research team. Issues of trust and authority in the research team were crucial. Data were recorded, transcribed, and coded. A conceptual model for heritage storytelling in the Cabrach was developed together with a transferable version for other contexts. The research was conceived around identifying the stories of the Cabrach and grouping them into cohesive narrative themes focused on the most important aspect of the glen's history (the development of malt whisky distilling). The research showed how all crucial narratives associated with the Cabrach interconnected with that malt whisky story. It was concerned with identifying broad thematic narratives rather than the specific detailed stories themselves, but also from a methodological perspective how stories around those themes could be collected, curated, and used. It presents the outcome of 'expert testimony' oral history conversations and presents a conceptual model for the curation of heritage knowledge. This paper reports on research which focused on the confluence of those issues of heritage-led regeneration, intangible cultural heritage, as well as how stories of and from, about and for, a distinctive community in North-East Scotland can be collected, curated, and displayed. It presents methodological conceptualisations as well focused areas of results which can be used to create a strong and inclusive narrative to encapsulate the durable sense of place and support the revival of an economically viable and sustainable community. This conceptual model offers a framework with universal elements (Place, People, Perception) alongside a strong core narrative of storytelling. That core element may vary but the outer elements remain the same, with people and place being omnipresent and the need to build an emotional or visceral connection with visitors being crucial, beyond 'telling stories' which might be regarded as parochial or narrowly focused. The model can inform the way communities and heritage organisations tell their stories in an authentic and proportionate manner. This can help shape and explain cultures, and identities, and support visitors' understanding of, and connection with, the places they visit and experience. The originality lies in two principal areas, the exploration of the narratives of a singularly distinctive community – the Cabrach – which plays a disproportionately significant role in the development of malt whisky distilling in Scotland; and also in terms of the methodological approach to the collection and curation of heritage storytelling, drawing not on first-hand accounts as in conventional oral history approaches but through the expert testimony of two historical and ethnographic researchers. The value is demonstrating the creation of a conceptual model which can be transferred to other contexts.


REID, P.H., PIRIE, E. and IRONSIDE, R. 2023. Telling the story of telling the story: capturing intangible heritage storytelling on the origins of malt whisky in the Cabrach. Journal of documentation [online], Early Cite. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 30, 2023
Online Publication Date Nov 27, 2023
Deposit Date Oct 30, 2023
Publicly Available Date Nov 27, 2023
Journal Journal of documentation
Print ISSN 0022-0418
Electronic ISSN 1758-7379
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Heritage storytelling; Knowledge curation; Narratives; Expert testimony; Oral methodologies; Malt whisky distilling
Public URL
Related Public URLs (Workshop)


REID 2023 Telling the story (AAM) (806 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
This author accepted manuscript is deposited under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC) licence. This means that anyone may distribute, adapt, and build upon the work for non-commercial purposes, subject to full attribution. If you wish to use this manuscript for commercial purposes, please visit Marketplace.

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