Completed Research and Public Engagement Projects


The UHI Centre for History is committed to research that impacts civil society, cultural life, public discourse and public policy in the Highlands and Islands region and Scotland more broadly. Through close collaboration with cultural heritage bodies, policy makers, schools and local communities, the Centre for History disseminates its research to a wide range of audiences and aims to influence public understanding of the past in the region and its diaspora. The Centre’s research aims to have impact in three key areas: on museums within the Highlands and Islands; on Highland schools; and on public policy debate about land reform and community ownership in Scotland.

The Kildonan Clearances

Dr Elizabeth Ritchie acted as historical advisor to the Timespan Heritage Centre in Helmsdale as they developed a host of activities and projects to commemorate the 200 year anniversary of the start of the notorious Sutherland clearances. A number of talks and workshops were held in Timespan, including Elizabeth's lecture on 'Why did the Clearances happen?' An innovative digital trail iphone app takes visitors on a tour of the cleared Strath of Kildonan and involves the stories of local people who were cleared, reconstructions of pre-clearance houses, maps, documents and the reflections of folks whose ancestors were cleared. The app can be used as a tour guide for those who visit the Strath or accessed virtually, so people can explore the history of the region and learn about the clearances from anywhere in the world. Along with new exhibitions and various talks, the app was launched in 2013. 

The Timespan project connects with the Centre for History's Masters level short course 'Contemplating the Clearances'. The course assesses both the events, with an especial focus on Sutherland, and the community memory of Highland clearance through literature, poetry, song and politics.

In connection with these, the BBC interviewed the Centre's Dr Elizabeth Ritchie about women's role in resisting the clearances for a website, radio and television news slot. Read the article here.

Coastal History and the 'Firthlands'

400 years of golf in Dornoch

Dr Worthington gave a series of talks on this topic, and on coastal history more broadly, to the UHI Research Conference, at UHI Executive Office, to the Moray Firth Partnership and to local history societies throughout the region. He was also interviewed for BBC Alba on the subject. He participated in and presented a paper at a conference on Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty in 2011, published an article in The International Journal of Maritime History on the theme and, in 2013, was successful in securing the support of Royal Dornoch Golf Club and the UHI Development Trust towards funding a PhD studentship ('The Royal Dornoch PhD Studentship') which focused on golf in Dornoch as well as the sport, intellectual and cultural history of the broader Moray Firth region, c.1600-c.1800. There were features on the launch at Royal Dornoch Golf Club, on the BBC, Scotsman, and Northern Times websites. In 2016 the even more ambitious 'Firths and Fjords' conference took place in Dornoch. This was the first ever Coastal History conference.  More detail can be found via the 'Firths and Fjords' blog and through the 'Moray Firth History' Facebook and 'Moray Firth History' Twitter pages.

The Historiography of the Scots in Early Modern Poland

Scotland and Poland book

In July 2011, and with the help of a Royal Society of Edinburgh / Polish Academy of Sciences grant, Dr Worthington carried out two weeks of archival research in Poland on wills and testaments relating to Scottish migrants in early modern Poland-Lithuania. This combined with the development of an undergraduate module, 'Scots in Poland, Poles in Scotland', as well as numerous lectures, public talks throughout the UHI region, a BBC radio interview, and wider newspaper and internet coverage regarding his work on this topic. In 2014, he was appointed to the board for the Polish-Scottish Heritage Trail, and, more recently, has joined the Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on Poland. He contributed a chapter on Highland emigrants in sixteenth and seventeenth century Poland to the T.M. Devine and David Hesse edited volume Scotland and Poland: Historical Encounters, 1500-2010 in 2011 and published a 2015 article on the historiography of the Scots in Poland in Immigrants and Minorities.

Social History of Forestry in Twentieth Century Scotland


The Centre was responsible for a major research project (with a budget of more than £350,000 from Forestry Commission, Scottish Forestry Trust and EU sources) on the social history of forestry in twentieth-century Scotland. The project culminated in 2016 with the publication of an authoritative book. The project was conducted by Mairi Stewart, the main researcher and writer, Dr Fiona Watson, a freelance writer and historian, Dr Hugo Manson, the Centre’s oral history consultant and Dr David Worthington, Head of the Centre. In April 2011, the team was joined by James Miller, author of The Foresters, published by Birlinn in 2009. For more information about the wider aspects of the project and, in particular, the image library and archive that has grown up as a result, see the affiliated Forestry Memories website.

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.

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. The report built on a lecture 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 research into community ownership of land led to his appointment (2012-13) to the Scottish Government’s Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) and his activism has led to changes in Scottish Government policy. 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 Wellcome Trust funded project involving historians from the universities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow Caledonian, examined 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 in 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 was led by Dr Karly Kehoe and 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 in this BBC News Article.

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 was the Pentland Firth with key topics on 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.

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

The aluminium industry has been a major presence in the Highlands ever since the British Aluminium Company established its first smelter and associated hydro power complex at Foyers beside Loch Ness in the 1890s. It went on to build further smelters and power stations in Kinlochleven and Fort William in the early twentieth century,  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 which explored 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 was 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

Dr William Bruce

With colleagues at NHS Highland, the UHI Centre for Rural Health and independent researcher Jim Leslie, the Centre for History undertook 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.