Projects

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We are engaged in interdisciplinary research ranging across a wide geographic area covering Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and the wider North Atlantic. Our international team of lecturers and researchers are committed to research of international reach and significance. Research expertise covers many fields, such as Highlands and Islands literature, the History of Scotland and Ireland, The Viking Age, Folklore, Dialects and Island Studies. As well as academic research, the team also shares their research with a wider public audience through engagement with local and regional community groups and cultural organisations.

Among the research projects in which staff from the Institute are or have been involved, are the following :

Waterways in the West Mainland of Orkney: A Pilot Study content

Waterways in the West Mainland of Orkney: A Pilot Study

Waterways in the West Mainland of Orkney: A Pilot Study

Funded by a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant. Principal Investigator: Dr Alex Sanmark. Co-Investigators: Prof. Barbara Crawford and Dr Richard Bates.

This project examines the potential existence of a line of navigable waterways running through the West Mainland of Orkney in the Viking Age and Late Norse Period (c. 790-1350). This idea has been raised in recent research by Barbara Crawford and Alexandra Sanmark, highlighting an important gap in our knowledge of the past landscape of Orkney. The West Mainland was a key area for the Norse Earls who ruled Orkney, in terms of fertile land, and here many of their seats of power were located. In medieval Scandinavia, such estates were commonly situated in strategic locations for communication, i.e. by important land and water routes. These same characteristics are found for the Earldom estates across Orkney, apart from the West Mainland. There is, however, a striking body of evidence suggesting that it would have been possible to travel to the West Mainland Earldom estates via now vanished inland waterways. This theory will be tested though sampling and study of sediments in the relevant areas. If the waterways can be shown to have existed, the map of Norse Orkney will have to be redrawn and the potential research impact of this project is therefore very large.

 

Download the final report: The Norse Waterways of West Mainland, Orkney

From Papay to Polynesia: a study of tourism in small islands content

From Papay to Polynesia: a study of tourism in small islands

From Papay to Polynesia: a study of tourism in small islands

Co-Investigators: Prof. Donna Heddle and Dr Alexandra Sanmark. Funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund.

This project focuses on sustainable tourism in the island nation of Vanuatu in Melanesia. Vanuatu is a small developing country, which despite some economic difficulties, has managed to put in place a strategy which has resulted in an emerging, if not yet fully robust, tourism industry. The aim of our research project was to evaluate the Vanuatu tourism industry, in particular to examine the methods by which they have achieved its current level of tourism offer, and see what improvements could be suggested. As a result of this, the Institute is currently developing a training programme for Vanuatu tourist guides, to be validated by the Scottish Qualifications Authority in conjunction with the Vanuatu Qualifications Authority. This programme has been developed with the input of all our correspondents. The aim is to upskill a workforce with an internationally recognised qualification of a high standard which would improve the cultural product on offer and attract more high end tourists. It would also improve the career economic prospects of this workforce as all tourism stakeholders would have to use this qualification as a benchmark. Furthermore, the programme could be accessed by business owners, craftspeople, and others working in the industry who wish to learn how to promote their products and enhance the tourism experience on the islands. Read more in Alex's Vanuatu blog.

 

Staff at the Vanuatu National Museum

Focus on the assembly site of Anundshög in Sweden content

Focus on the assembly site of Anundshög in Sweden

Focus on the assembly site of Anundshög in Sweden

Archaeological fieldwork. Various funders. Investigators: Dr Alexandra Sanmark with colleagues in Sweden.

This project builds on Alex Sanmark’s previous research and archaeological fieldwork of the assembly site of Anundshög (Västmanland, Sweden). Anundshög, one of the most significant assembly (thing) sites of medieval Sweden, has a very strong archaeological profile, with roots in the Early Iron Age. Our excavations revealed a 200-metre long wooden monument, dating from the 7th century AD, and most likely erected to enclose the sacred legal space. This was the first monument of this type to have been found in Sweden. Since then a similar monument, although on a bigger scale, has been discovered at the major cult and assembly site of Gamla Uppsala and gained world-wide interest. As part of earlier fieldwork, we carried out a geophysical survey of the whole site, which showed the presence of other significant remains.

The excavations have also revealed the remains of a 14th-century ‘thing cottage’. This is the first confirmed example in Sweden of a building erected on a medieval assembly sites with prehistoric roots.

Anundshög

Anundshög

2016 - Scots and Nynorsk as cultural movements content

2016 - Scots and Nynorsk as cultural movements

2016 - Scots and Nynorsk as cultural movements

Scotland is currently going through some exciting sociolinguistic transformations. Not only is the Gaelic community undergoing changes, with 'new speakers' overtaking the number of 'heritage speakers' of the language, but there are rapid developments regarding Scots as well. New initiatives for revitalising Scots are coming both from above and from the grassroots: Education Scotland is bringing Scots to schools through 4 Scots Language Co-ordinators. A Scots 'Scriever' has been appointed to produce texts in Scots. In newspapers and online fora, Scots is becoming popular. Politically and in terms of language planning, this situation resembles that of Norway in the 19th century, where the Nynorsk movement emerged as a break away from the political and linguistic dominance of Denmark. The proposed project utilised the fact that there is a nation, Norway, with a comparable population and a similar linguistic and formerly also political relationship with a neighbouring country, to which current developments in Scotland can be compared a century later. What can Scotland learn from Norway?

2015 - Orkney & Shetland Community Digital Heritage content

2015 - Orkney & Shetland Community Digital Heritage

2015 - Orkney & Shetland Community Digital Heritage

Contact: (Orkney) Dr Alexandra Sanmark, (Shetland) Dr Andrew Jennings

Funded by Digital Scotland, The Orkney & Shetland Community Digital Heritage Project invited people in Orkney and Shetland to get involved in capturing their memories, stories and special places using simple technology. Community members to captured and shared memories and stories of place-names, people, and places in both Orkney and Shetland, though using mobile phone and tablet technology with the app Fieldtrip GB. The app let participants take photos, write memories down, or record spoken narratives, all tied to an interactive map via the device's GPS.

 

The Assembly Project (TAP) - Meeting-places in Northern Europe AD 400-1500 content

The Assembly Project (TAP) - Meeting-places in Northern Europe AD 400-1500

The Assembly Project (TAP) - Meeting-places in Northern Europe AD 400-1500

www.khm.uio.no // Contact : Dr Alexandra Sanmark

This is an international collaborative project investigating the first systems of governance in Northern Europe.  The first systems of governance in Europe have long been a neglected research theme, with the significance of these places in the medieval world highlighted only in recent publications. TAP will build on previous research and offer a new, innovative, and large scale study of thing sites in the context of the transition from localised polities to large-scale kingdoms and nation states.  TAP was officially launched in June 2010 and ran until 2013, with regular project workshops held in Austria, Scandinavia, Orkney and the UK.

Main research question: What was the role of assemblies (things) in the creation, consolidation and maintenance of collective identities, emergent polities and kingdoms in early medieval Northern European populations and communities?

The project contributes an entirely new combined data set for the study of early governance and administrative organisation in the societies of North West Europe. It will achieve a range of objectives including:

  • the establishment of a relative chronology of assembly sites
  • new knowledge on the role of assemblies in processes of territorialisation.
  • a study of how law and collective norms and values were established and
  • enforced onto colonised/conquered areas.
  • a study of gender perspective concerning power relations and assembly access
  • a historiography of assemblies and their relevance to the concepts of national
  • identity and statehood

The Assembly Project team, which consist of colleagues from the Universities of Oslo, Vienna, Durham and the University of the Highlands and Islands is financially supported by the HERA Joint Research Programme which is co-funded by AHRC, AKA, DASTI, ETF, FNR, FWF, HAZU, IRCHSS, MHEST, NWO, RANNIS, RCN, VR and The European Community FP7 2007-2013, under the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities programme.

Dr Alexandra Sanmark

2013 - The Orkney Viking Heritage Project content

2013 - The Orkney Viking Heritage Project

2013 - The Orkney Viking Heritage Project

www.worldtreeproject.org // Contact : Professor Donna Heddle

The Orkney Viking Heritage Project is a training programme for PhD students and early career researchers in the field of Old Norse-Icelandic and Viking Studies (ONIVS), which aims to extend academic research about the Viking diaspora and its tangible and non-tangible heritage in the British Isles. It consists of workshops, a field school in Orkney and an exhibition.  The theme of Midlands Viking Symposium is linked to the Project.

The project is a collaborative initiative led by the following institutions: The Faculty of English, University of Oxford, The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge, The School of English, University of Nottingham, The Institute for Northern Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands.

It is funded by a Collaborative Skills Development Grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

 

The Hjaltland Research Network content

The Hjaltland Research Network

The Hjaltland Research Network

www.hjaltlandnetwork.com  Contact : Dr Andrew Jennings

The Hjaltland Network received £17,000 from the Royal Society of Edinburgh to bring together national and international scholars of folklore, onomastics, genetics, isotope research, archaeology and history for a large-scale research project entitled Mapping Viking Age Shetland.  The project, through the digitising and mapping of the datasets of each discipline, answered many of the unresolved questions about Shetland’s Viking Age, such as:

  • what happened to the pre-Viking population
  • the date of Viking settlements
  • the origins of the Norse settlers and the anomaly of the divergent origins of the male and female lines
  • the nature of Shetland’s connections to the Celtic world
  • the intensity of settlement and the extent and duration of Norse pagan beliefs and folk traditions.

Mapping Viking Age Shetland was a truly interdisciplinary approach to Viking-Age research, applying the latest technological advances and innovative new research in the various scientific and technological fields, allowing analysis of additional information from existing sources and uncovered new onomastic, genetic and isotopic evidence.

2012 - The Orkney and Shetland Dialect Corpus Project: scoping study. content

2012 - The Orkney and Shetland Dialect Corpus Project: scoping study.

2012 - The Orkney and Shetland Dialect Corpus Project: scoping study.

This project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), evaluated the feasibility and planned the development of a corpus of Orkney and Shetland dialect texts for use in linguistic research. The main objective of the research was to undertake a scoping study and research review with a view to developing a larger corpus-based project on Orkney and Shetland dialect grammar. The project identified available sources of dialect text and considered how these could be developed into a digitally searchable corpus resource. As part of the Connected Communities programme, it also engaged the local communities in Orkney and Shetland through various events such as a presentation for Shetland ForWirds, a dialect day as part of Orkney International Science Festival, and an evening class in Orkney dialect for beginners. Associated publications: "The Establishment of the Scots Language in Orkney", by Ragnhild Ljosland, in New Orkney Antiquarian Journal vol.6, and "Grammatical Gender in Orkney and Shetland Dialect", to appear in Scottish Language. The project also led to the foundation of The Orkney and Shetland Dialect Research Network.

2012 - 'Nordic Regions of Culture: intercultural links between Norway and Scotland in the eighteenth century' content

2012 - 'Nordic Regions of Culture: intercultural links between Norway and Scotland in the eighteenth century'

2012 - 'Nordic Regions of Culture: intercultural links between Norway and Scotland in the eighteenth century'

Research mobility project funded through the Norwegian Research Council for 5-month residency at Høgskulen I Volda/Volda University College http://www.hivolda.no/.  The project evidenced the relationship between the cultural heritage of coastal communities across the North Sea through general historiographical and socio-cultural analysis, but also using case studies from seventeenth and eighteenth century coastal histories and cultures.

2011 - A Knowledge Exchange project: Small Boats of Shetland content

2011 - A Knowledge Exchange project: Small Boats of Shetland

2011 - A Knowledge Exchange project: Small Boats of Shetland

Author: Alison Munro

Funded through the Scottish Funding Council's "Innovation Voucher" scheme, this publication made recent research findings about the traditional Shetland boat available in an accessible format for the public. The book interprets an important part of Shetland's cultural heritage and generates profits for the Unst Boat Haven (Unst Heritage Trust), a cultural heritage charity.