Virtual Museum

New Connections Across the Northern Isles content

New Connections Across the Northern Isles

New Connections

Welcome aboard! This is the main portal of the “New Connections Across the Northern Isles” virtual museum of maritime pasts, presents and futures.

This virtual museum was created with people across the Northern Isles of Scotland as part of our SGSAH-supported PhD project on 'Curating Heritage for Sustainable Communities in Highly Vulnerable Environments: The Case of Scotland’s Northern Isles'

Making New Connections Together content

Making New Connections Together

Making New Connections Together

Scotland’s Northern Isles comprise two archipelagos made up of around 170 islands, situated at 58 to 60 plus degrees north. To the south, Orkney is 16 kilometres from the northern tip of Scotland, across the strongest tidal streams in the British Isles. Shetland sits a further 80 kilometres north, towards Norway. Located at a crossroads in the North Atlantic both archipelagos have participated in long-distance trading, exchange and migrations of people, ideas, knowledges and cultures for millennia. Today, they are sometimes described as peripheries. Their open economies, small populations of approximately 22,000 people per archipelago, and their ecosystems abraded by climate change might suggest that these are fragile environments.  This virtual assemblage shares a more resilient perspective from the centre of this Atlantic crossroads; from communities who are sustaining through their place-based knowledges, engagement with their environments and cultures, and through the local and global of their maritime traditions and heritages.

Drawn from several islands, the virtual museum’s co-curators have collaborated to get hands-on with aspects of the Northern Isles rich maritime heritages, in museums, heritage centres, boat yards, at coastal sites, in archives, in the water, and within households. They have also connected online and through videoconferencing to share knowledge, discover fresh perspectives, and make new resources including a website, seven new films, 3D models, and artworks to bring people closer to the maritime cultures that they care about, and care for.

The co-curators have discovered fresh ways of exploring the dispersed artefacts, archives, sites and recollections that express and represent how people across Shetland and Orkney have lived with and from the sea, throughout time. They have tried to find sustainable ways to share and benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience as they connect around the cultural resource of their maritime pasts, present and futures.

Virtual Museum Galleries content

Virtual Museum Galleries

Virtual Museum Galleries

This new virtual museum shares stories, objects, images, music, making, and islands-based knowledge from these centres shaped by surrounding seas.  The contemporary interpretations include 3D models of objects that are not normally on public display, historic and new sound recordings, and new creative responses – including new artworks.  

There are also seven new films.  Each features people sharing about aspects of maritime heritage-making, including contemporary activities.  The films bring us up-close to maritime culture, including wooden boat building in Orkney with Jeff Mackie; sailing on the Shetland sixern Vaila Mae with Ailish Parham; visiting Marwick Bay, in Orkney with singer and songwriter Sarah Jane Gibbon; and finding out about maritime musical exchanges across the North Atlantic with Shetland fiddler Catriona Macdonald. In other films, co-curators Ruth Peace, Hughie Adamson, Pat Christie, Jimmy Clouston, John Cumming, Rena Nisbet and Jenny Murray share personal reflections on why being involved with maritime cultures and the environment of the sea both matters now, and for sustaining people in Orkney and Shetland into the futures that they hope for.

Since the ‘New Connections Across the Northern Isles’ virtual museum opened in May 2019, the museum has continued to grow, including two new galleries, one from co-curators at the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall, and another from our newest and youngest co-curators – the pupils of Primary 5/6 at Aith Junior High School in Shetland.  The Orkney Museum co-curators have been continuing their research into Khokhloma ware, highly lustrous bowls, ladles, cups and goblets believed to have been brought back to Orkney and Shetland by merchant mariners returning timber from the Baltic trade in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and also to have been brought to the Northern Isles to be traded for goods here, by merchant seafarers from Riga, Arkhangelsk, other ports east.  The Aith Junior High School pupils have created a new gallery of stories, artworks, photography and films as their response to ‘New Connections’.  The galleries include their perspectives on Shetland’s maritime heritages of Da Pastenoo, and Da Future.  You can visit both of these new additions to the virtual museum by clicking on the ‘New Interpretations’ tile below.

Click on one of the images below to enter one of our virtual galleries. 


All of the images on this site, the sound recordings and films that you can access via this site, and the models displayed on Hugo Anderson-Whymark’s Sketchfab site are exhibits in the “New Connections” virtual museum. Unless otherwise stated, photographs, films, sound recordings and models are copyright of the “New Connections Across the Northern Isles” project. Where copyright rests with the originators, license to reproduce has been given to Shetland Museum and Archives on behalf of the project. Permission to reproduce can be arranged with Shetland Museum and Archives, as the license administrator.  They will consider applications for free non-commercial use, particularly for educational purposes. Visit Shetland Museum and Archives’ website for contact information.

To reference this website and use quotations from any part of the virtual museum, please cite New Connections Across the Northern Isles 2019.

Twitter: @NorthernNousts | Facebook: New Connections Across the Northern Isles

Funding content



The research, and the co-curation of this new virtual resource has been facilitated by PhD student Catherine McCullagh, based at the IRC Heriot-Watt University, the Institute for Northern Studies UHI and Shetland Museum and Archives. Cait has been joined in this inquiry by over 100 people representing a diverse cross-section of expertise, experience and enthusiasm for maritime history and culture, including representatives participating in present-day occupations and leisure activities. “New Connections Across the Northern Isles” has drawn in contributions from people involved in diverse heritage settings, boat builders, sailors, former merchant mariners, people working in fisheries, archaeologists, musicians, marine spatial planners, historians, folklorists and storytellers, and people who work in tourism.  Together they have been exploring how maritime heritages and heritage-making can help to sustain people and places in these islands.. 

The project is funded by Museums Galleries Scotland’s Museum Development Fund, the Hugh Fraser Foundation and match-resourced by the Intercultural Research Centre and the Institute for Northern Studies UHI.  The project partners are Shetland Museum and Archives and the Orkney Museum.  The collaborating organisations are The Old HaaWestray Heritage CentreCunningsburgh History Group and Orkney Historic Boat Society.  Orkney Library and Archive have also offered  resources and support.  Learning for Sustainability Scotland have provided helpful advice and guidance, especially concerning how the project’s aims connect with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Scotland’s commitment to attaining these.  Each has invested significant in-kind resources to make the virtual museum possible.