Completed Research and Public Engagement Projects

Carnegie Trust Centenary Professorship

Professor Eric Richards of Flinders University, Australia, accepted a visiting professorship with the  Centre for History in 2014. His three-month visit to Dornoch was funded by a grant from the Carnegie Trust. Having graduated from the University of Nottingham in the 1960s, Professor Richards has a distinguished academic career. He has held positions at universities around the world, including institutions in London, Glasgow, Ohio, Florence and Canberra. He is also a prolific author, having written numerous articles and books on the Highland Clearances and emigration more widely. He was the recipient of the Scottish Art Council's Book Award in 1982, the Scottish History Book of the Year Award in 1999 and the New South Wales Premier's Literary Prize in 2009. Professor Richards’ visit to UHI benefitted his own research, the Centre, and the local community, as he used local archives, assisted with teaching and supervising Centre students as well as giving several public talks. One of the highlights of Professor Richards' visit to the Centre was our 'Strathnaver Conference' in Bettyhill, 4th-6th September 2014.

UHI's Media Centre gives further details.

Community Ownership

Professor James Hunter was commissioned by the Carnegie UK Trust and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to write a report on the experience of community ownership of land in the Highlands and Islands. The report, which was completed in the autumn of 2011, details the development and expansion of community ownership since the 1980s and reflects on the policy implications of the community ownership experience – by making connections, for example, between this experience and the present UK government’s commitment to what the Prime Minister, David Cameron, calls the ‘Big Society’. The report builds on a lecture on the same themes which James Hunter gave in the Scottish Parliament during Edinburgh’s annual Festival of Politics, reflecting his research over the past four decades that began with the publication in 1976 of his seminal book The Making of the Crofting Community (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2010). A book based on the report was published in March 2012. Professor Hunter, who was director of the Scottish Crofters’ Union (now the Scottish Crofting Federation) in the 1980s, and who chaired Highlands and Islands Enterprise for six years from 1998, is a longstanding advocate of community ownership and has been much involved with many of the community groups who, between them, now own several hundred thousand acres across the Highlands and Islands. Professor Hunter's research established that land reform could lead to the economic and social regeneration of rural communities and has had considerable impact on public policy debate in Scotland. In particular, Professor Hunter’s recent research into community ownership of land led to his appointment (2012-13) to the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) by Scotland’s First Minister, the Right Hon. Alex Salmond and his activism has led to changes in Scottish Government policy. Moreover, Professor Hunter’s research has informed community buyout schemes, leading to a range of economic, social and environmental impacts.

Dr Lachlan Grant of Ballachulish

A further Wellcome Trust funded project involving historians from the universities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow Caledonian, is currently examining the history of health and healthcare provision through the career of Dr Lachlan Grant, a prominent GP in Ballachulish, whose career spanned decades of turbulent change in the western Highlands. Trained in Edinburgh, and capable (as shown by his research interests) of having had a high-level career, Grant chose to become a rural GP. At Ballachulish, as medical officer in the local slate quarries, he was a key figure in labour disputes of national significance. Later, Grant, whose political contacts were extensive, campaigned for (a) healthcare improvement of the sort eventually made possible by the Highlands and Islands Medical Service and (b) the creation of a Highland development agency modelled on Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority. In connection with the Grant project, a one-day event took place on Saturday, 10 September 2011 in Ballachulish. This combined academic papers with workshops for the community and with medical practitioners, which enabled them to contribute their own memories and analysis of Grant, and their wider thoughts on social, economic and political change in the area in the twentieth century. Programme of the workshop, including abstracts of the academic papers.

Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands

This project, led also by Dr Karly Kehoe when she was at the Centre, enabled Highland youth to engage with local resources in order to understand how they might play a role in the region’s future. ‘Looking Back to Move Forward: Slavery and the Highlands’ was funded by Edinburgh Beltane – Beacon for Public Engagement and builds upon the work of the Centre’s McClement Project. ‘Looking Back to Move Forward’ engaged directly with a local community to demonstrate, through the creation of a public exhibition at the Inverness Archive Centre, the process of doing history. It showed how local archival resources can be used to inform current academic research and scholarship as well as how universities can enhance the study of history in schools.

The success of this project was recognised by the award of the prize for best public engagement project of this type in Scotland by the Edinburgh Beltane Beacon for Public Engagement (March 2012, £2,000). You can read more about the project here.

History and Heritage of the John O'Groats Area

As part of the redevelopment initiative in John O’Groats, the Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council commissioned the Centre to develop a plan for a historical exhibition in the town. The focus of the proposed exhibition is the Pentland Firth and the key topics are the Vikings, Using the Sea, Shipwrecks and Lighthouses, Emigration and the Island of Stroma. Dr Issie MacPhail and Dr Elizabeth Ritchie undertook an archive search; the creation of a written report and a presentation of these materials; the development of a simple archive system and a photoclub event. The latter was held in October 2010 in John O’Groats and enjoyed lively and varied support from many local people who turned up to share their photos and stories about the history of the area. As well as scanning 167 items on the day, valuable contacts were made for ongoing work. To date, the project has brought £5000 in to the Centre.

The Aluminium Industry in the Highlands


British Aluminium Foyers super purity refinery, 1962. Reproduced with the kind permission of Glasgow University Archives Service and Rio Tinto Alcan

Since the British Aluminium Company established its first smelter and associated hydro power complex at Foyers beside Loch Ness in the 1890s, prior to going on to build further smelters and power stations in Kinlochleven and Fort William in the early twentieth century, the aluminium industry has been a major presence in the Highlands. The Centre for History’s exploration of this role, in the shape of a three-year research project launched in 2006 and funded in part by Rio Tinto Alcan, produced a public exhibition – with associated publication, DVD and website – in Fort William. The project culminated in the publication of an authoritative book, "Aluminiumville" which, as well as dealing with the aluminium industry’s Highland significance and with the region’s key contribution to its early development internationally, analyses the role of government in this strategically vital industry’s twentieth-century growth.


Over a 12-month period commencing in the summer of 2006, the Centre for History conducted oral history interviewing in Gigha with a view to exploring the background to the community purchase of the island in 2002. The resulting ‘life history’ recordings – some extending to several hours – have been archived and will be the basis of a future publication.

Hydro Power

At Glendoe near Fort Augustus, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) constructed what is likely to be the last major hydro scheme in the Highlands. This development is close to the location of the first such scheme – initiated more than a hundred years ago by the British Aluminium Company. In 2008, with financial support from SSE, the Centre conducted an oral history exercise involving both the Glendoe scheme’s workforce and veterans of the many hydro schemes constructed in the North of Scotland in the decades immediately following the Second World War. Extracts from the resulting interviews featured in a publication which SSE issued when the Glendoe scheme was opened officially in the summer of 2009.

Medical & Hospital Services in the Highlands


With colleagues at NHS Highland, the UHI Centre for Rural Health and independent researcher Jim Leslie, the Centre for History has undertaken research into the development of health care in the Highlands. An exploratory project resulted in a fully documented account of the history and development of some 60 Highland hospitals and institutions. It is hoped that longer-term research will include an analysis of the work of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service which was established in 1913 and which came to be recognised as a precursor of, and test-bed for, Britain’s National Health Service.