When Margaret Mackay arrived at the University of Edinburgh in 1967 from her native Canada as a young postgraduate student, she felt immediately at home among internationally acclaimed colleagues in the welcoming atmosphere of the School of Scottish Studies in historic premises on the south-western corner of George Square. It had therefore come as a great surprise to learn that the Department was actually younger than she was, having been created as recently as 1950 with the first staff member arriving in 1951 to emulate the example of the Irish Folklore Commission in gathering and archiving items of oral and material culture. Ireland had in turn been inspired by such activity in Sweden from the nineteenth century in collecting folklore and dialects. Scotland would have followed suit earlier but for the intervention of the Second World War, which however prompted people who had seen frontline service to return determined to find new ways of re-establishing contacts and developing academic pursuits. Angus McIntosh, a veteran of much wartime experience including work at Bletchley Park, was appointed Forbes Professor of English Language and General Linguistics at Edinburgh in 1948. He had a great capacity for friendship, and at Oxford had met the folklorist Dr John Lorne Campbell of Canna and later his American wife Margaret Faye Shaw. Through them he heard about the Irish Folklore Commission and had joined them on one of their collecting trips in the Gaelic-speaking Canadian province of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton.

McIntosh had a strong belief in the value of teams working towards a common goal and in the application of new technology to collecting of a linguistic and ethnographic nature. With the support of University Principal Sir Edward Appleton, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, he set about establishing a multidisciplinary Scottish department. Initially the School of Scottish Studies was administered by a committee served by a secretary-archivist. But on the recommendation of leading Swedish folklorist Ake Campbell, who was invited to visit Edinburgh as the first participant in the Northern Scholars scheme, promoted by the School, it appointed a Director and undertook to produce a journal, Scottish Studies, to report on its own field collecting and associated research. Both were in place by 1957. The origins of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe owed much to the ceilidhs featuring tradition-bearers from many parts of Scotland recorded by School staff on portable tape recorders in the early 1950s. 

Its first Director was Ulsterman Basil Megaw, who had experience of a pioneering survey of Manx folklore and folk life as head of the museum there. Calum Maclean, trained by the Irish Folklore Commission, was the first staff member in 1951 and he was soon joined by Hamish Henderson and by Francis Collinson and others followed. At first there was no programme of undergraduate teaching or postgraduate supervision, but in the 1960s a one-year postgraduate Diploma in Scottish Studies was initiated.  With an interest in historical linguistics, Margaret approached Angus McIntosh and received a very encouraging reply, as well as a one-year grant from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. This enabled her to begin a stay in Scotland that lasted not one year but for her entire career. The Diploma included one-to-one tutorials with the School's specialists as well as study of Old Norse, Scottish Gaelic and aspects of Linguistics, for which Edinburgh was famed. She continued her studies with a PhD on the alliterative tradition in Middle Scots verse, supervised by Professor Jack Aitken, Editor of the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue. Her first appointment to the School of Scottish Studies was as a Research Associate on a series of linked projects headed by Eric R Cregeen on the history and traditions of the Island of Tiree and its emigrant offshoots in the 18th and 19th centuries, drawing on evidence from oral tradition combined with documentary sources in the Argyll Estate Muniments. This research was funded by the then Social Sciences Research Council and marked a  first in such external research council support for an Arts department at Edinburgh. Margaret joined the permanent staff of the School following the completion of these and was to become its Director in the 1990s. 

The appointment of Professor John MacQueen from Edinburgh's Department of English Literature as Director on Basil Megaw's retirement brought the School, which had previously reported directly to the University's Court, into the embrace of the Faculty of Arts. He gave strong encouragement to developing undergraduate teaching and postgraduate supervision. The former began with courses offered as outside subjects in other degrees, but in the 1980s a full undergraduate degree programme was offered, in both single and joint honours forms, the latter connecting its subject of Scottish Ethnology with allied subjects such as Scottish History, Archaeology, Linguistics, English Language and English Literature. Margaret was largely responsible for taking the planning of this initiative forward, An early ERASMUS grant enabled her to spend time in similar departments in Denmark, observing the teaching of Danish Ethnology, the study of the culture of a nation, in the comparative context of European Ethnology. From its creation, the School formed lasting connections with its comparators in other countries, through the journal exchanges which give an international dimension to its library, programmes involving visiting scholars and the attraction of its archival resources for postgraduate research. 

The Scottish Ethnology was a discipline new to UK higher education and Professor MacQueen's successor Professor Alexander (Sandy) Fenton brought with him to the School the European Ethnology Research Centre (EERC), which he had created at the National Museums of Scotland. The 1990s also saw the launch of a major project to digitise and put online the recordings in the School's Sound Archive, in collaboration with the BBC and the Campbell of Canna Collection (National Trust for Scotland), with funding from European sources as well National Lottery Fund and others. This has provided inspiration for work by people with an interest in Scotland's oral traditions here and abroad, and the vibrant state of its music - sung and instrumental - and storytelling activities in Scotland owes much to this resource. During the pandemic, when opportunities for the one-to-one interviews so important in ethnographic research were curtailed, the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches website proved invaluable for postgraduates and others. 

University restructuring around the turn of the century brought about a merger with the Department of Celtic Studies, established in the nineteenth century, and the demise of Faculties, with a new home for Celtic & Scottish Studies in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and its School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) at 50 George Square. The School of Scottish Studies Archives and Library still have a physical location at 29 George Square. There is a close and valued connection with the University's Centre for Research Collections (CRC), based in the Main Library across the street. 

Collaborations and contacts made through membership of various international associations keep staff and students in touch with developments in ethnology elsewhere and Scotland at the heart of these activities. Friendship has been at the core of the School's ethos since its creation and remains important. Contacts are being maintained with colleagues affected by the war in Ukraine, for example, and with alumnae/i in many parts of the world. Margaret concluded by expressing her delight that support by the Saltire Society Edinburgh Branch might help its continuance in offering opportunities for students from Scotland and elsewhere to understand our culture and place in the world.