ROBERT Burns’ “parochial” image must relegated to history, an academic claims.

As Burns night approaches, Dr Arun Sood of Plymouth University claims it is time to reassess the impact of Scotland’s national bard.

The call follows the publication of his book Robert Burns and the United States of America, which is said to be the “first extensive study” on the relationship between the Ayrshire poet and the US.

It covers his popularity amongst the country’s Scots population and wider society – as well as the “symbolic power” that led to association both with the abolition of slavery and the racist Ku Klux Klan.

Sood, who completed a PhD at the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at Glasgow University, says the literary figurehead’s “transnational” status must be recognised.

He said: “Burns’ significance in America and other places is overshadowed, even blighted by the image of him as a largely parochial writer – ‘just a national poet’.

“I hope my research goes some way to showing that this is not the whole story, and that Burns was a transnational poet whose horizons and influence spanned the Atlantic.”

Sood’s work, published last year, explores the “huge influence” Burns had in the US, as well as his engagement with American politics of the day.

It also argues that his words left their mark on the writings of America’s own literary luminaries, including poets John Greenleaf Whittier, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Ralph Waldo Emerson

The growing popularity is said to have been driven by unregulated reprinting, which saw his work disseminated to a readership far from home.

Sood describes how within a year of the original 1787 publication of the seminal Kilmarnock edition, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, this had been reproduced in both New York and Philadelphia.

And, mapping the growth of his fame and popularity in America in what is thought to be the first chronological list of American-made Burns reprints, Sood presents a map showing how the Bard’s work was to be found along the east coast from Virginia to Massachusetts, and as far west as Cincinnati in Ohio by 1866.

Meanwhile his songs were appropriated both by abolitionists like former plantation slave Frederick Douglass – who travelled to Scotland to build opposition to slavery – and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War era.

And Burns himself was influenced by the American Revolution and its ideas, writing a nine-verse piece about the conflict in 1784 which “lampooned British military figures, heralded revolutionary heroes and reflected on the political chaos that engulfed Britain in the wake of America’s successful revolt”.

The racist KKK, whose founders were of Scottish descent, also favoured his writing.

Arguing that the 2009 Burns bicentenary celebrations helped motivate a “fresh scholarly interest” in Burns, Sood says he had until then been “considered a poet of limited linguistic range and geographical significance” whose reputation was “habitually reduced to archaic, sentimental and popular Scottish contexts”.

He stated: “There is no doubt that Burns held a symbolic power in the States, and after his death that influence and his repertoire lived on, and in some ways became malleable.

“His work was appropriated by groups on all sides, from abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, to Confederate forces and the KKK, which used a verse from one of his poems in its founding document. He also had a significant influence on nineteenth century American poets.”