£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 14 November 2022 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more
International Burns
Skip main navigation

International Burns

In this short video, Professor Gerard Carruthers of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies examines Burns as International Icon
Burns, once a very real human being, is today iconic. In 1885 the World Burns Federation was formed, providing Burns with a popular following like no other writer on the planet. This organisation brought together the ‘Burns Clubs’ which had sprung up from 1801, within five years of the poet’s death in 1796. Today the Federation comprises more than 250 clubs worldwide. Most of these will have an annual Burns supper on 25th January to celebrate the poet’s birthday. In 2009, the 250th anniversary of the poet’s birth, it is reckoned there were some 900,000 Burns Suppers across the globe. Between 1786, when he first appears in print and 1986, there were reckoned to have been produced over 2,000 different editions of Burns’s work.
His first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect published in Kilmarnock in 1786, and so known as the ‘Kilmarnock edition’, was produced in 612 copies. Today around 70 of these survive, fetching anywhere between 30 and 75 thousand pounds at auction. A recent estimate of Burns’s worth to the Scottish economy is £157 million per annum, a figure that does not attempt to add up the worth of the international sales market in his manuscripts (a good letter manuscript will fetch around £8,000; if you sell a very good song manuscript by Burns, you might be able to buy yourself a fine new sports car!). Burns’s worldwide appeal is palpable.
As well as the suppers, we have a writer who is popular in the USA, seen as an example of success by someone from a humble background with the right ability and drive. Burns is also popular in Russia, seen as a ‘proletarian’ poet par excellence. A few years ago at the Edinburgh Book Festival, I signed a copy of a book on Burns I had edited for a Chinese Red Army general. In some stores in Japan, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is played to signal that closing-time is near. Burns has been translated into over forty languages, including Latin, Faroese, Esperanto and English!

In this video, Gerry Carruthers examines Burns as International Icon.

Filmed in the Bute Hall, University of Glasgow, with additional footage from the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Alloway.

This article is from the free online

Robert Burns: Poems, Songs and Legacy

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education