Centre for Nordic Studies news

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Nick Timmers

Nick Timmers
Nick Timmers
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New paper by Dr Ragnhild Ljosland

Friday 28 February 2014

New paper: Ragnhild Ljosland: "Language planning confronted by everyday communication in the international university: the Norwegian case", in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development

New paper by Centre for Nordic Studies staff: Ragnhild Ljosland: "Language planning confronted by everyday communication in the international university: the Norwegian case", in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, special issue on Language policies and practices in the internationalisation of higher education on the European margin.

CNS helps Highland Park launch new whisky

Friday 28 February 2014

CNS helps Highland Park launch new whisky

The Norse themed whisky Freya at Kirkwall launch event on the 6th of February 2014. Ragnhild Ljosland had the honour of portraying the Norse goddess, Donna Heddle played the harp, and Vara Hrolfswiffe and the Hoy Vikings told stories and gave it all a good viking feel!

New module in Celts and Vikings in Contact: the North Atlantic a Shared Cultural Space

Friday 28 February 2014

For those with an interest in the Vikings, the Picts and the Gaels, the Centre for Nordic Studies is excited to announce a joint teaching project with the University of Iceland and the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies. From January 2015 the Centre will be offering a new MLitt module entitled Celts and Vikings in Contact: the North Atlantic a Shared Cultural Space.

Around 700AD Celtic peoples dominated the North Atlantic. The Picts lived in the Northern Isles of Scotland, while Gaelic-speaking clerics from the Hebrides and Ireland had sailed to the Faroe Islands and Iceland. By 900AD these areas had been settled by the Vikings. The peoples and cultures were changed by their contact. This module will explore the result of this interaction between peoples and the extent to which cultural syntheses developed, both in the British Isles and in Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland. It will examine the impact of the Gaels on Icelandic settlement and their continued impact of Icelandic folklore, and the reasons why they were written out of official Icelandic historiography. It will also explore Norse elements in the culture of the Gaelic areas of Scotland and Ireland and the creation of societies of mixed Gaelic Norse ethnicity. It will be a multi-disciplinary study including archaeology, folklore, history, place-names, genetics and literature.


This will be team taught by Professor Donna Heddle, Dr Andrew Jennings and Dr Alexandra Sanmark from UHI, and Professor Gisli Sigurdsson, Professor Terry Gunnell, Dr Agnar Helgason, Dr Elín Ingibjörg Eyjólfsdóttir and Vilborg Davíðsdóttir from Iceland. The module will be available as an option for students on any of CNS programmes including Viking Studies, or as a standalone option for students throughout UHI. If you want to know more about the module contact Dr Jennings on 01595 772494 or Dr Sanmark on 01856 569301.

New paper on Orkney and Shetland dialect

Friday 25 April 2014

A new paper by Centre for Nordic Studies researcher Dr Ragnhild Ljosland is now in print.

'I'll cross dat brig whin I come til him': grammatical gender in the Orkney and Shetland dialects of Scots

The paper investigates possible remnants of a grammatical gender system found in the Orkney and Shetland dialects of Scots.

The paper is published in the journal Scottish Language, 31&32.

CNS staff visit Harvard and Yale

Friday 25 April 2014

Three members of the UHI Centre for Nordic Studies team recently visited Harvard and Yale universities.

The purpose of the trip was to attend the Scandinavian and Baltic Studies conference at Yale, for which the Centre for Nordic Studies successfully proposed and organised a stream entitled “Reconnecting with the Nordic:  Aspirational Identities in the Nordic Periphery”. In addition, Dr Alex Sanmark, Dr Andrew Jennings, and Dr Ragnhild Ljosland attended a runology symposium at Harvard, and also met with the international offices and academics and Yale and Harvard, initiating contact between these institutions and the UHI.

Call for papers: Creative Orkney 2014

Thursday 1 May 2014

Arts and Creativity two day Orkney conference 26-27th September 2014
Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands

This exciting conference on art, identity, landscape, and creativity will combine academic papers with mentoring sessions, an art exhibition, and hands-on practical workshops.

With keynote addresses from

Professor Tony Jones CBE
Chancellor of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

François Matarasso
Independent consultant

The conference has the following aims:


  • to explore creativity and its relationship with place and landscape, academically and creatively
  • to propose that creativity should be at the heart of our community
  • to explore Orkney’s creativity present and future
  • to bring together the creative and education sectors in Orkney and beyond
  • to showcase creative practice and the creative industries in Orkney
  • to offer practical workshops and one-to-one mentoring


We welcome papers from academics and practitioners alike in art and cultural identity related topics such as:


  • Creativity and its relationship with place, landscape, and cultural identity
  • Cultural cross currents in art and literature, especially Celtic and Norse
  • The nature of creative practice
  • Orkney and creativity
  • Creativity and community


We hope to take forward a selection of papers from this conference for online publication.


Papers will be 20 minutes plus 10 minutes for discussion. In addition to individual papers, suggestions for panel topics are welcome. Panels exploring a particular issue around the theme are encouraged, and these would receive one hour including paper presentations and discussion.


The deadline for submissions is Friday 13th June 2014.


Please submit your abstract(s) for consideration (max 300 words) to Prof. Donna Heddle (


For panel submissions, please submit both an abstract for the whole panel and abstracts for each individual paper.

A ‘Grand Tour of Orkney’ lecture series

Monday 14 December 2015

Professor Donna Heddle, Director of the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands will be embarking on a grand tour of Orkney to deliver an inaugural lecture series.  The lecture, entitled ‘From the fury of the Northmen, good Lord, deliver us?’ explores the various facts and fictions about Norse influence in Scotland.

The tour will replace the inaugural lecture which was scheduled for December 2013 and was regrettably postponed due to bad weather. Professor Heddle said: “I’ve had many enquiries about the lecture that was due to take place in 2013 upon being awarded my Professorship with the University.  Going out and about is very much part of the Centre’s community engagement strategy, and I was delighted to respond to the many requests to go on tour with the lecture.  I am very much looking forward to it!”

Professor Heddle’s tour, beginning on Tuesday, 1st December in Stromness, will cover the islands of North Ronaldsay, Eday, Shapinsay, Sanday, Stronsay, Rousay, Westray and Hoy, as well as the mainland locations of Kirkwall, Stromness, St Margaret’s Hope and Deerness. Each lecture begins at 19:30 and ends at 20:30. The lectures will be free of charge and bookings are not required.

Lecture timetable.

CNS Newsletter January 2016

Thursday 11 February 2016

Our quarterly newsletter is out, so you can see what we have been up to over winter.

Read our newsletter for January here

Supernatural Fetlar...

Friday 12 February 2016

Fetlar chapter on the supernatural

A new book on the supernatural has just been published and it includes a chapter on the island of Fetlar by Dr Andrew Jennings. The book is entitled Folk Belief and Traditions of the Supernatural . It is a scholarly collection which explores historical and contemporary folk belief and traditions of the supernatural around the globe. Andrew hopes it will inspire people to experience Fetlar’s supernatural heritage for themselves.

Seminar by Associate Professor Jay Johnston, University of Sydney

Thursday 10 March 2016

Everyone is cordially invited to attend a free public seminar given by Associate Professor Jay Johnston, University of Sydney, on Monday 25 April in Orkney College, at 7.30pm. The title of the seminar is Troublesome Objects: Ritual and 'Magical' Material Culture of the Highlands and Islands.

Associate Professor Jay Johnston (University of Sydney) is an interdisciplinary scholar who investigates ritual and its use in identity formation, healing practice and cultural exchange.  She is particularly interested in the role of material objects, animals and the natural environment in these practices.  Trained in religious studies, continental philosophy, gender studies and art history, her research examines concepts of materiality, embodiment, image agency and epistemology. These theoretical concerns are investigated via several research projects strongly grounded in the evaluation of lived experience including ritual practice and cultural exchange in Late Antiquity and in Scottish and Norse cultures pre-1400; complementary and alternative medicine and its historical precedents; and human–animal–environment relations (eco-criticism).

She leads the international research project “The Function of Images in Magical Papyri and Artefacts of Ritual Power from Late Antiquity” funded by the Australian Research Council.  Her publications include Stag and Stone: Religion, Archaeology and Esoteric Aesthetics (forthcoming, Equinox 2017); Religion and the Subtle Body in Asia and the West (Routledge 2013, coedited with G. Samuel); Angels of Desire: Esoteric Bodies, Aesthetics and Ethics (2008) as well as over 20 book chapters and research articles.  In addition Jay continues an active engagement with the visual arts, following on from previous roles in the museum sector as a manager, educator and curator.  She is particularly interested in integrating creative practice and academic research.

William P. L. Thomson passes away

Thursday 25 August 2016

The Centre for Nordic Studies' Honorary Research Fellow, the historian William P. L. Thomson, sadly passed away this summer.

Obituary by Brian Smith

William P.L. Thomson, 1933-2016

Many Shetlanders, my age and older, have fond memories of Willie Thomson. He taught geography and history for 13 years at the Anderson Institute, invariably referred to as “Steepie” by his pupils.

   He got the sobriquet at teachers’ training college, after giving a practice talk about the geography of Russia. His examiner complimented him. “Excellent work,” he said. “But it is worth remarking that we speak about the steppes of that country, not the steepies.”

   William Paterson Loudoun Thomson was born in Newmilns in Ayrshire in 1933, the son and grandson of parish ministers. He seems to have received his third Christian name from the parish church there, where his father, John Gardner Macleod Thomson, preached for twelve years.

   In 1939 Thomson senior was appointed as director of religious education at Dundee Training College. Willie went to the High School there, and later studied geography and history at the University of St Andrews.

  After teacher’s training his first charge was in Lerwick, in 1958. He set up the department of geography at the Institute from scratch, and a few years later became the principal teacher. When his friend John Graham left to become headmaster at the Central School, Willie was appointed assistant head.

   He married Elizabeth Watson, a native of Kincardine, in 1960, and their children were born in Lerwick.

   The election of a Labour government in 1964, re-elected two years later, and the formation of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, inspired many. Willie became a committee member of the Shetland Council of Social Service, encouraged by enthusiasts like John Graham. Soon he was vice-chair of Shetland Labour Party.

   He stood as a Labour candidate for the Town Council in May 1968, was elected and served until 1971.

   Sometimes the work was less inspiring than he had hoped. He told me that the evening when the Council devoted an hour to discussing the purchase of a polisher for the Town Hall was especially trying.

   As well as teaching and debating, he was doing research. In 1969 I unearthed an extraordinary plan in Lerwick Sheriff Court, dated 1822, which portrayed and named every little rig – hundreds of them - in the township of Funzie in Fetlar.

   Willie came to see it, and was entranced. It inspired his first academic article, about Shetland runrig, published the following year in the Scottish Geographical Magazine.

   He left Shetland to become rector of Kirkwall Grammar School in November 1971. There was plenty to do: the new school at Papdale was being built, and was not fully occupied until 1975.

   As he settled down in Orkney he didn’t take up his political interests again. He told me that he found Orcadians less argumentative than Shetlanders, and that he preferred that. Instead he devoted more and more time to historical research. His colleague Ray Fereday, teacher of history at the Grammar School, abetted him.

   “The half-hour before the beginning of the school-day”, Willie wrote later, “is usually a busy time, requiring all sorts of last-minute arrangements.

   “But if, as often was the case, Ray had been in the archives on the previous evening, all thoughts of immediate problems were put out of our minds. … I do not think that our priorities were wrong.”

   Willie got interested in General Burroughs, an unpleasant Rousay landlord of the late nineteenth century. Burroughs’ factor had stayed in Papdale House, where Willie now lived. He studied Burroughs’ accounts and his economic stratagems in his predecessor’s study.

   The result was The Little General and the Rousay Crofters, crisis and conflict on an Orkney estate, published in 1981, a smashing piece of work.

   From then on books and articles flowed steadily from Papdale. Kelp-making in Orkney (1983) is a fine monograph, beautifully illustrated by the late Anne Leith.

   Then came the first edition of his great History of Orkney, in 1987, commissioned by the bookseller Thin’s in Edinburgh. There is no history of a Scottish county to match it.

   Dealing with whole epochs, from Pictish times until Thatcherism, he deployed old and new sources to tell the story of the small archipelago. He kept up his Shetland interests: there are many references to what was happening, and what was different, in the northern group of islands.

   Willie retired in 1991, and he and Elizabeth moved to Burray. He devoted the next quarter of a century to writing articles and gardening. The main characteristic of his work in that period has been revision and rethinking.

   I can only give a few examples, from his huge repertoire of publications. A new edition and a revised edition of History of Orkney appeared in 2001 and 2008. Willie didn’t just correct the errors inevitable in such a large work; in many cases he recast his arguments entirely.

   He didn’t give up thinking about runrig, a subject which has taxed the ingenuity of many scholars. In 1998 he published a new account of the situation in Shetland, based on a study of what had happened at Funzie again, at Norwick in Unst and at Laxobigging in Delting. He looked at the landscape as well as documents: I recall that his visit to Laxobigging resulted in a soaking and a bad cold.

   By examining the effect of the 18th century population increase on Shetland society, and on the form of agricultural settlements, Willie explained for the first time the dynamic quality of runrig here. His work on the subject is only rivalled by that of Desmond McCourt on rundale in Ireland.

   In 1995, meanwhile, he had been examining theories proposed by Hugh Marwick, his predecessor as rector of Kirkwall, about Orkney’s oldest farm-names and their chronology. Marwick’s ideas had long been regarded as holy writ. Willie concluded that Marwick had misconceived the problem: the key concept involved, he said, wasn’t chronology but hierarchy. Willie’s “Orkney farm-names” is an exceptionally important piece of work.

   He didn’t just concentrate, as Marwick tended to do, on Orkney’s oldest and most “important” names. In an article of 1985 he had written, entertainingly, about the names and activity generated in what he called Orkney’s “pioneer fringe” in the nineteenth century, when “improvement” was in full swing. Twenty years later he produced a more detailed and nuanced account of that subject.

   I mention one more article: an account of “The latter days of the earldom estate”, where he discussed how that venerable domain splintered into fragments after the First World War.

   All these papers, and others, sometimes rewritten, are collected in his Orkney Land and People, published in 2008.

   When the Orkney historian J.  Storer Clouston died, in 1944. Hugh Marwick said that he felt as if he had been left alone by himself in an empty room. Over the years I spent countless hours in discussion with Willie Thomson, about runrig, taxation and rent, the archaic fiscal units of Orkney and Shetland, and much else.

   His ill health in recent years disrupted our conversations. But I look back tonight with nothing but delight at the acute observations, the flashes of insight, sometimes spiced by wit, of my teacher and friend during fifty years.

                                                                                                            Brian Smith

New publication by Alexandra Sanmark and Barbara Crawford on The Orkney Huseby Farms

Friday 26 August 2016

Hot off the press today is a new and exciting publication on "Huseby" farms in Orkney.

The publication is by Barbara Crawford and Alexandra Sanmark, entitled "The Orkney Husby Farms - The onomastic, historical and archaeological context". You can find it in Husebyer - status quo, open questions and perspectives, edited by Lisbeth E. Chistensen, Thorsten Lemm and Anne Pedersen and published in the series Studies in Archaeology & History, Vol. 20:3 Jelling Series by the National Museum, Copenhagen.

PhD student Becky Ford organises conference in Lincoln

Monday 29 August 2016

Our PhD student Becky Ford is on the organising committee for the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment postgraduate conference, which is running in Lincoln this week.

She was invited to join the organising committee after getting involved with the Association through work on her PhD, which takes a Bakhtinian approach to the dialogues concerning marine renewable energy in Orkney.

We have no doubt it will be an exciting week for Becky, who is also presenting her research at the conference in addition to her duties on the committee.

If you would like to find out more, go to

New PhD students doing applied research

Tuesday 20 September 2016

The Centre for Nordic Studies is delighted to welcome two new PhD students, who have each been granted an Applied Research Collaboration Studentship.

Andrea Blendl is moving to Orkney from Germany, having previously gained an MLitt in Viking Studies with the Centre for Nordic Studies. During her time in Kirkwall, she will collaborate with the Orkney Museum in researching runic inscriptions from the western Viking diaspora

Catherine McCullagh will be based in Orkney and Shetland and is a joint supervision with Heriot-Watt University and the Shetland Museums and Archives. She comes to us from the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. She will be looking at maritime heritage in the context of highly vulnerable environments, focussing on how it can be interpreted and utilised to foster sustainable community development and create museum products while preserving it as a resource. Cait was previously a student with UHI on the Scottish Cultural Studies programme and went on to a masters in Archaeology at the University of Oxford so we are very happy to welcome her back!

Graduation photo by Lynn Powell

Jane-Anne Denison, Fleur Ward, Lynn Powell at 2016 Orkney College UHI graduation in St Magnus Cathedral.
Graduation photo by Lynn Powell
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Proud graduates of 2016

Monday 10 October 2016
Proud graduates of 2016

Graduation 2016 Centre for Nordic Studies

On the 30th of September, we were very proud to see our students graduate in a beautiful ceremony in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall.

We would like to congratulate all who graduated, those were here in person on the day and equally also those who live elsewhere and could not be with us in Orkney on the day.

Andrea Blendl

Andrea Blendl
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CNS Seminar Shetland

Friday 18 November 2016
CNS Seminar Shetland

Professor Viveka Vilupillai

Professor Viveka Velupillai, from the University of Giessen will deliver a lecture called Lönabracks and affrugs of contact and change.

Professor Viveka Velupillai, from the University of Giessen will show how Shetland dialect fits within the larger field of ‘contact linguistics’. She will describe her study of the Shetland language pre-oil. She will show how she analyses the Shetland data, and discuss from a global perspective some features of pre-oil Shetland which are currently eroding. CNS are collaborating with Shetland Museum and Archives on this occasion. Each year Shetland Museum and Archives commemorates a Shetland scholar in a memorial lecture. This year the Shetland writer James Stout Angus, author of A Glossary of the Shetland Dialect, is being commemorated.

The lecture will be on Friday at Shetland Museum and Archives Doors open at 6.30pm for a 7.00pm start.

MOU with Dalhousie University Nova Scotia

Wednesday 23 November 2016

MOU Dalhousie

A new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Student Exchange Agreement have been signed between UHI and Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s foremost universities. This is the result of discussions and collaboration between Dr Andrew Jennings, Centre for Nordic Studies, and Professor David Gray, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie and CNS Visiting Professor. This MOU will encourage collaboration in rural studies, island studies, aquaculture, and agriculture. Both institutions are keen to build productive relationships and exchanges between staff members, and to cultivate student exchanges. It is also hoped to develop a summer study course in Scotland.

New publication: Shetland and the Viking World

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Shetland and the Viking World has now been published by Shetland Heritage Publications, and contains chapters by Ragnhild Ljosland and Andrew Jennings.

The book contains papers from the Proceedings of the Seventeenth Viking Congress in Lerwick, 2013.

Andrew Jennings (2016): "Continuity? Christianity and Shetland." page 47-54

Ragnhild Ljosland (2016): "Skoit du oot-by, Magnie: Scots Grammar Supported by Norn in the Dialects of the Northern Isles?" Page 69-76

Volume reference:

Turner, Val E., Olwyn A. Owen and Doreen J. Waugh (eds.) (2016): Shetland and the Viking World. Papers from the Proceedings of the Seventeenth Viking Congress Lerwick. Lerwick: Shetland Heritage Publications. ISBN 978-0-9932740-3-9

New publication on Orkney and Shetland dialect grammar

Monday 6 March 2017
New publication on Orkney and Shetland dialect grammar

Dr Ragnhild Ljosland

A new article by Dr Ragnhild Ljosland explores the be-perfect in Orkney and Shetland dialect, for example when speakers say "I'm never seen her". Does it come from the extinct Scandinavian language, Norn, as has been claimed by other researchers in the past? Ragnhild has a different explanation.

You can read the whole article for free, here:

Full reference:

Ljosland, Ragnhild. 2017. ‘The be-perfect in transitive constructions in Orkney and Shetland Scots: Influenced by Norn or not?’. In Cruickshank, Janet and Robert McColl Millar (eds.) 2017. Before the Storm: Papers from the Forum for Research on the Languages of Scotland and Ulster triennial meeting, Ayr 2015. Aberdeen: Forum for Research on the Languages of Scotland and Ireland, 107-27. ISBN: 978-0-9566549-4-6.