PhD Students

Anne Artymiuk

"The Dark Road Down From the Hill  George Campbell Hay and the Legacy of War"

Anne Artymiuk is researching the C20 Scottish poet George Campbell Hay. Recognised by his contemporaries, including Hugh MacDiarmid and Sorley MacLean,  as a leading poet of his generation, Hay was largely lost to sight after World War Two , due to recurring bouts of severe mental disturbance which led to many years of hospitalisation. Taking inspiration from Kay Redfield Jamieson, a leading expert on  the inter-relationship of mental illness and artistic creativity, Anne’s research focuses on the space where biography, poetry and psychology meet, and her work  seeks to illustrate the way in which each of these separate aspects of the poet illuminate the others.
Anne was also recently responsible (2017) for the addition of George Campbell Hay to The Makar’s Court Memorial at the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh.
Anne is based in Orkney and is supervised by Professor Donna Heddle.

Andrea Blendl

"Runic writing in the Viking diaspora: expression of a Norse identity?"

An Applied Research Collaborative Studentship (ARCS) project. Partners: University of the Highlands and Islands, Centre for Nordic Studies, Orkney Museum (Orkney Islands Council).

The project proposes a comparative study of the corpus of runic inscriptions from the entire Scandinavian diaspora in the North Atlantic region, and looks at runic literacy as a means of expressing identity.

 Editions and evaluations of the runic corpus tend to focus on certain regions (e.g. Lisbeth Imer on the use of runes in Greenland) and seldom examine connections throughout the Scandinavian diaspora in-depth. By interpreting runic inscriptions as witness of an extended network of literacy across the North Atlantic the project seeks to establish connections and larger patterns of common traits, and examine cultural and linguistic exchange with other cultures inhabiting the region.

The project has a natural place within the growing field of research on the Viking diaspora, also taking into account recent work on Gaelic influence on Viking culture, language and place-names as well as DNA studies and key archaeological features. This makes it possible to view the Viking settlement of the North Atlantic Isles from a new perspective which has not been fully explored so far and will shed light on the growing area of Viking diaspora research from a new angle.

The key research question for the proposed project is: do runic inscriptions in the diaspora, individually and as a corpus, show any unique characteristics, compared to inscriptions from mainland Scandinavia, which date from the corresponding periods, i.e. Viking Age and Medieval period? Can the runic inscriptions be viewed as expressions of a unique and new Norse diaspora identity?

Andrea is based in Orkney, and she is supervised by Dr Ragnhild Ljosland and Dr Alex Sanmark.

Read Andrea's blog

Lynn Campbell

"The Role of the Kirk in Orkney, 17th – 19th centuries"

How has the kirk shaped the lives of the people? The 17th – 19th centuries encompass a huge change in the fortunes of Scotland, Orkney and the kirk, including conflicts with the Covenanters, the Jacobite rebellion and the Highland clearances. Little is documented of Orkney’s involvement in these elements of Scottish history.

Has the kirk been a help or a hindrance in times of change and conflict, and has it materially differed from other areas in Scotland? Was it important, did it change the lives of the islanders, or did life continue much as it always had? Gender roles were often clearly defined, therefore how did the role and views of women differ? The kirk was an important part of the fabric of life and societal structure, but without any religious zeal from the main population, just how much influence did it really have?

The ministers of the parish were learned people of ‘substance,’ to whom deference was given. They were the ones writing for the Statistical Accounts or setting up clubs and societies to which the wider population may neither have had the time nor the interest to join. Much written about the church in Orkney has been created by those most immersed in it; the ministers of each parish, whose memoirs, reminiscences and sketches provide a valuable initial study. This project will look at original sources to try and tally the perceived with the actual, mainly through the parish Kirk Session records.

Supervised by Prof Donna Heddle and Dr Alex Sanmark

Lydia Crow

"Orcadian Folklore and Contemporary Expressions of Identity"

With the rise of social media networks in recent years, the internet has become the largest research site available, offering the researcher a lens through which to examine contemporary expressions of identity relating to the self, as well as to perceived communities and groups. This research analyses the way in which Orcadian folklore is referenced in blogging and across various social media networks, and considers its relationship to identities associated with Orkney today.

Lydia is interested in online and offline ethnographic research approaches, qualitative methods used to analyse online data, and the development of folklore as a field of study in the twenty-first century, with a specific interest in digital folklore.

Lydia is currently based in Edinburgh and Inverness, and is supervised by Dr Jennings.



Marc Chivers

“The Traditional Shetland Boat”

The Shetland boat is central to the economic and cultural development of the Shetland Isles. These boats were used for fishing and transportation and their ancestry can be traced back to the arrival of the first Norwegian Viking settlers in about 780 AD. The fact that the design of these boats changed little over the Centuries is testament to their seaworthiness and practicality of use. A cooling in climate in the fifteenth century led to fish stocks moving offshore and resulted in the development of the Far Haaf fishery. This deep-water fishing, right on the edge of the continental shelf, required larger boats and so the Sixern was born.

The expansion of the herring fishing in the 1880’s lead Shetland fishermen away from the relatively small open boats of the Sixern and Fourern and Instead they adopted the larger, partly decked, and at the time, more economically viable Scottish Fifies and Zulus. Although no longer commercially viable the Shetland model of boat is indelibly marked in the fishing folk culture of Shetland. His research will investigate the incorporation of the Shetland model of boat into the material folk culture of the Shetland people.

Marc Chivers is based in Shetland. Supervised by Dr Jennings.

Rebecca Ford

"Words and Waves: a dialogical approach to discourse, community, and marine renewables in Orkney.”

In my research I am  exploring the  role of narrative in the formation and shaping of discourse communities, the idea of community as a creative, dialogical process, and the importance of place in meaning making. In 2014 I worked as a Research Assistant for the Alien Energy project at the IT University Copenhagen, and the report on my fieldwork at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney is available on the Alien Energy website

I am a member of the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities (SGSAH)  Doctoral Researcher Committee, and a Postgraduate Representative on the Executive Committee of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment , UK and Ireland (ASLE-UKI). I am also on the board of directors for the George Mackay Brown Fellowship.

See my Academia profile

Rebecca is based in Orkney and she is supervised by Professor Donna Heddle and Dr Ragnhild Ljosland.

Cait McCullagh

"Curating Heritage for Sustainable Communities in Highly Vulnerable Environments: The Case of Scotland's Northern Isles"
The Northern Isles are nowadays seen as a peripheral region within Scotland and the UK, whereas historically they were at the crossroads of maritime cultural, political and economic systems, a heritage involving geo-cultural affinities reaching beyond present-day political boundaries. As small islands in a maritime ecosystem exposed to challenging climate conditions, they are physically vulnerable, while demographic and economic factors add to the vulnerability of their human ecology. Understanding the maritime heritages of the Northern Isles from an integrated perspective as a cultural resource for sustainability opens up opportunities for community development more generally, and specifically for the creation of sustainable tourism. By achieving such an integrated perspective, grounded in community co-curated work, the Northern Isles may serve as a model for other maritime and peripheral regions.
Cait is a full-time PhD Student, supported by a Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humnities Applied Research Collaborative Studentship.
 The thesis is supervised as part of a collaboration between
    Intercultural Research Centre, Heriot-Watt University
    Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands
    Shetland Museums and Archives
    Learning for Sustainability Scotland

Cait is co-supervised by Prof Donna Heddle.

Timothy Morrison

"The Orkney Witchcraft Trials, 1638 – 1661"

This project examines the large number of witchcraft accusations which were brought in Orkney in 1642/3. These accusations, and in many cases resulting trials, were an experience of horror,  of which published histories of Orkney have taken little or no account. Trials and their outcomes have not been investigated in any systematic way, but it is likely that in the region of 20 executions may have taken place over a period of six months. The project examines the Orkney witchcraft trials as events that occurred in islands communities that were themselves in a state of flux within the contested Scottish polity.  It will look at their political function; the hypothesis being that the trials were used over several generations to define and reinforce power hierarchies within the overlapping domains of State and Kirk power.

Timothy is supervised by Prof Donna Heddle.

Past PhD Students

Tudor Skinner

“Impact and change: The dynamics of political assembly in the Danelaw AD400-1100”.

This project seeks to characterise the dynamic relations between meeting places and their associated administrative divisions in the early medieval northeast. The study area focuses upon the northern extent of what was the Danelaw, a Scandinavian territory in the region formerly occupied by the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. This is targeted here through the historic counties of Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland, extending northwards to the Lothians of southeastern Scotland. This investigation forms one of the components of The Assembly Project - Meeting Places in Northern Europe, AD400-1500, and thus will ultimately seek to set the analysis within the ambit of wider developments in northwestern Europe as a whole.

The early medieval northeast witnessed drastic shifts in its political makeup at the close of the Roman era. From post-Roman polities and Anglian kingdoms through to the Scandinavian settlement and the changes wrought by the Norman Conquest, the region has been redefined and reframed on numerous occasions. While the primary objective of the present project is to analyse those developments and practices associated with the Danelaw, this cannot be achieved without detailed recourse to and analysis of the long term political development of the region, and likewise of its subsequent history.

This draws upon numerous strands of evidence in order to map and analyse the shifting landscape, combining established emphases upon documentary sources and place-names with an ever growing corpus of archaeological data. The stress is twofold, developing a dynamic picture in place of static snapshots while bringing the archaeology, thus far the junior partner of assembly-studies, to the forefront. While the paucity of documentary evidence for the northeast necessitates a stronger material component, this differential focus offers exciting new opportunities to contextualise assembly sites within wider archaeological landscapes, in relation to parallel studies into settlement, burial, land-use and material culture - in effect to move attention towards landscapes, rather than merely sites, of political assembly.

Tudor Skinner is based in Durham. Supervised by Dr Sanmark, jointly with staff at Durham.

Jill de Fresnes

"Image and Identity: The lives of the herring girls 1900-1950"

Dr Fresnes was supervised by Professor Heddle and graduated in 2010. She was a Research Fellow at UHI Centre for History. She now works as Skills for the Future Project Manager at the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Shane McLeod

"Migration and Acculturation: the impact of the Norse on Eastern England, c. 865-900."

The conquest and settlement of lands in eastern England by Scandinavians represents an extreme migratory episode. The cultural interaction involved one group forcing themselves upon another from a position of military and political power. Despite this seemingly dominant position, by 900 CE the immigrants appear to have largely adopted the culture of the Anglo-Saxons whom they had recently defeated. Informed by migration theory, this work proposes that a major factor in this assimilation was the emigration point of the Scandinavians and the cultural experiences which they brought with them.

Although some of the Scandinavians may have emigrated directly from Scandinavia most of the first generation of settlers apparently commenced their journey in either Ireland or northern Francia. Consequently, it is the culture of Scandinavians in these regions that need to be assessed in searching for the cultural impact of Scandinavians upon eastern England. This may help to explain how the immigrants adapted to aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture, such as the issuing of coinage and at least public displays of Christianity, relatively quickly. The geographic origins of the Scandinavians also explain some of the innovations introduced by the migrants, including the use of client kings and the creation of ‘buffer’ states.

Dr MacLeod was supervised by Dr Sanmark and graduated in 2011. He has lectured at the University of West Australia. He is now a Post-doctoral Research Fellow in the University of Stirling, Department of History. His study has recently been published as The Beginning of Scandinavian Settlement in England. The Viking ‘Great Army’ and Early Settlers, c. 865-900.

Tom Rendall

"The effects of inmigration on Orkney dialect"

Tom Rendall was born on the island of Sanday (1951) at a small farm called The Meadow. He was educated at Sanday Junior High and left school age 15 with no qualifications. The local headmaster – John D Mackay – was keen to assist students who wanted to pursue some O levels and Highers. Tom passed 5 O levels and Higher English.
In 1975 Tom commenced his studies with the Open University and studied while working on the farm and also acting as Company Secretary of the Isle of Sanday Knitters. He graduated with a BA in 1983 – and added Honours by 1985.

In 1990, Tom married and moved to Kirkwall. He worked as a Tourist Information Centre Manager with Orkney Tourist Board from 1992 – 2001. During this time he studied for his second degree with the Open University – a BSc.  His subjects have been mostly social science based.

From 2002-2010 Tom worked as a part-time lecturer at Orkney College – teaching tourism courses and also running Orcadian Studies classes. Since leaving the College Tom has worked at the Kirkwall Grammar School in the Curriculum Support Department. He has also worked at the Orkney Museum and the Tomb of the Eagles.
Over the past 8 years Tom has carried out research in attitudes towards the use of dialect in Orkney culminating in the award of a Doctor of Philosophy. He has also worked on two small scale dialect projects and has published a report on one of those studies: Voices aroond the Flow He graduated at the St Magnus Cathedral on the 27th September 2013 and described this as “ one of the best days of my life”.

Dr Rendall was supervised by Professor Heddle

Angela Watt

"The Implications of Cultural Interchange in Scalloway, Shetland, with reference to a perceived Nordic-based Heritage"

Shetland’s geographical location has long been considered remote or isolated from a centralised Scottish perspective. However, as an island group situated between the neighbouring landmasses of Scotland and Norway, Shetland is directly situated on the maritime highway of the North Atlantic Rim. The mobilising quality of the maritime highway created a path of entry into the islands, allowing the development of locational narratives, but has also resulted in the loss of some of these narratives.

This investigation addresses the dynamics of cultural interchange by formulating a theoretical model of the exchange of ‘cultural products’; with particular regard for practices of recording and displaying visual narratives. The ancient capital of Shetland, Scalloway, provides the background for a microcosmic account of Shetland’s wider history and cultural composition and forms the main focus of the thesis. Within this setting the process of cultural interchange can be seen to have been formative in the development of island identity; particularly in traditional practices, occupational forms, dialect, place-names and cultural expressions.

The historical account of Scalloway provides material culture evidence for human occupation reaching back to the Bronze Age. Successive ‘layers’ in the archaeological record and officially recorded histories indicate distinct periods pertinent in the development of a local identity; Iron Age, Norse Era, Stewart Earldom and World War Two. Collectively, these periods represent a consecutive process of ‘imprinting’ characteristics upon the local population; including geographical positioning, dialect, political control and shared narrative histories with Norway during the Second World War. However, it can be seen that there is an over-determination of the Norse element of island identity, which finds a greater degree of replication in visual accounts. It is argued in this investigation that this over-determination is a deliberate cultural construct of island identity that is maintained in opposition to Scottish control.

Dr Watt was supervised by Professor Heddle and graduated in 2013. She is now a member of staff at the Centre for Nordic Studies in Shetland.


Silke Reeploeg

“Nordic Regions of Culture: Modern Intercultural links between Shetland and Norway”.

This thesis aims to address the central research question of how Nordic regions of culture and memory are created and maintained over time within Northern Europe.  The history and culture of Scotland has been shaped by its relationships with other cultures across the North Atlantic and the North Sea, with North America, Ireland, Continental Europe and Scandinavia, but in particular with Norway.  The research focuses on understanding the continuing intercultural connections between Norway and Scotland after 1707 by examining national and regional historiographical contexts alongside cultural narratives (both national, sub- and transnational), and relating them to the wider, sometimes conflicting, but also converging,  regionalisation or ‘identity management’ dynamics of European regions and states in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this, the thesis examines the transnational 'cultural region' connecting Scotland and Norway well beyond the Viking period. Using case studies from the Shetland Islands and Western Norway, the thesis argues for the existence of an intercultural history that connects the two countries over a much longer period of time as has previously been thought, but in particular the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  By showing how both hidden and obvious transnational “regions of culture” can be documented, the thesis critically explores both direct structural links, such as coastal trade, but also socio-cultural activities such as boatbuilding traditions, and relates them to political and ideological cultural phenomena such as national and regional historiographies.

Supervised by Professor Heddle.

Dolina Morrison

"The diminution of the supernatural in every day practice on the west side of Lewis".

Supervised by Professor Heddle.


Gillian Beattie Smith

“Romantic Subjectivity: the creation and performance of women’s identity in nineteenth century travel literature about Scotland”.

She is based in Edinburgh. Supervised by Professor Donna Heddle.

Jane Blair MacMorran

“Shetland Fiddling: the American Legacy”

She is based in Tennessee, USA. Supervised by Professor Heddle

Orcadian Folklore and Contemporary Expressions of Identity