The Institute for Northern Studies has always had a strong research ethos. We are delighted to have had so many successful PhD students go through our doors, and are greatly encouraged by the ever increasing number of current students.
You can find out about the activities of our current students via their individual tabs below.
Please contact us if you might be interested in undertaking research with the Institute for Northern Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone: 01856 569300
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 Prof Alex Sanmark.
Highland Park: From Sagas to Stills
This PhD is part-funded by UHI and the Edrington Group.
An exciting joint initiative between the University of the Highlands and Islands Institute for Northern Studies and one of the most iconic whisky distilleries in Scotland, Highland Park.
The ‘Sagas to Stills’ project is a unique opportunity to explore the 220 year history of Highland Park from the foundations of the distillery to the present day. In addition to looking at the Distillery archive, the research will look at Highland Park and the whisky industry as an important part of the social and economic history of Orkney. The end of the 3 year project will see the production of materials for a popular book, an exhibition, and training development for Highland Park’s tour guides.
Julie is based in Orkney. She is supervised by Prof Donna Heddle and Prof Alexandra Sanmark.
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 Humanities Applied Research Collaborative Studentship.
The thesis is supervised as part of a collaboration between
- Intercultural Research Centre, Heriot-Watt University
- Institute for Northern Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands
- Shetland Museums and Archives
- Learning for Sustainability Scotland
Cait is co-supervised by Prof Donna Heddle and Prof Ullrich Kockel.
Information and Communication Technology’s Role in the Governance of Sub-National Island Jurisdictions (SNIJs) – Successes, Failures and Lessons for Scotland’s Island Councils
This PhD is funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) plays a pivotal role in how Scottish Island Councils govern community and business development. It is vital that Scottish Island Councils fully utilise, integrate and govern ICT in their communities as it drives growth, engagement, sustainability and island proofing. Through a comparative approach this research will advance current island governance theory, and provide research based findings on the nature of ICT use in island communities worldwide.
This project will assess the impact of ICT on island communities and examine its use in various sectors including tourism, food and drink, and the creative industries. From these findings, Scottish Island Councils will be provided with strategic information concerning how to use and develop their own ICT systems which could lead to increased efficiency, improved community engagement and economic empowerment within their jurisdictions.
Fleur is based in Orkney. She is supervised by Dr Andrew Jennings.
Dangerous Relations? The facts and fictions of female relationships in the Old Norse world
The relationships that women formed with each other in the Viking Age and early medieval period, whether based on kinship, friendship, servitude or enmity, is a neglected area of study. This can be partially explained by the overt focus on masculine relationships within the 13th century sagas, but also by the androcentric nature of prevailing friendship theory. This research will seek to redress this balance, taking an interdisciplinary approach to examine both 13th century cultural views on female relationships, and the extent to which female solidarity and sisterhood may have existed and evolved between the 9th and 13th centuries.
Although women and the relationships between them will take centre stage in this research, the relationships between women were not formed or experienced within a vacuum but instead against a backdrop of complex and sometimes conflicting networks of loyalty and social, economic and political interdependencies. As such, the complex array of relationships that women formed with men and within social groups will also be considered within this research
Tara completed her MLitt in Viking Studies with UHI in 2020. She is supervised by Prof Alexandra Sanmark, Dr Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir and Prof Stefan Brink.
Shetland before the NHS: a study to explore factors that influenced Islanders wellbeing, health and care
Travellers who came to Shetland in the 19th Century commented on the wretchedness of peoples lives, with comments about the adverse conditions of working and living, the houses being filthy and the food bad, all of which they believed was injurious to health. Conversely, it was also said that people in Shetland lived to a great age and were full of vigour and health, with statistics indicating greater numbers of Shetland people living longer than those on Mainland Scotland, and an infant mortality rate lower than the rest of Scotland.
Before the establishment of the National Health Service, people in Shetland made use of a mix of options for health and care matters, including self help, lay healers and quacks, support from ministers, teachers, lairds and qualified medical practitioners. Medical aid was not always available however, and even when accessible this was not the first choice for a significant proportion of the population.
This research aims to explore these and other factors that influenced peoples’ wellbeing, health and care. Socio-economic, political and cultural determinants will be considered, as well as the remote island location. The organisation and management of health and care services will be considered, and how this impacted on the day to day experience of Islanders. Using a qualitative approach, this research will explore a range of primary sources up to 1948, and conduct interviews with individuals who have memories of, or have heard stories about wellbeing, health and care in Shetland before the NHS.
Evelyn is based in Shetland and is supervised by Dr Andrew Jennings and Prof Sarah Anne Munoz
The National Islands Plan: a journey to transformational change for Scotland’s Islands?
This thesis will identify how the Islands Plan translates into actions to benefit island communities, and to what extent it responds to the aspirations expressed by the Islands Councils through their Our Islands Our Future campaign and embodied first in Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities and thereafter in the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018. It will evaluate and critically analyse the developing and changing role of island based local government and its relationship with partners and communities. This PhD is jointly funded by UHI, the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU), Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council, and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
Supervised by Prof Donna Heddle, Prof Steven Heddle and Dr Andrew Jennings.
Making Herstory: Evaluating Female Leadership in the Viking Age
Over the past few decades, there has been a rise in research regarding the roles of women in Viking Age society, however, these examinations have largely focused on women as general members of society, and more recently, the exciting possibility of women as warriors. There is still, however, a gap in knowledge regarding women in leadership positions in the Viking Age. This PhD examines modern leadership theory and gender archaeology and will apply key concepts to medieval texts and archaeological evidence to identify female leadership roles in the Viking Age. It will explore the possibility of women coming into power in their own right, what leadership looked like for the women in these roles, whether they were successful and effective leaders, and if so, what made them successful in their positions. Gender roles in the Viking Age will also be addressed as well as the assumption of power assigned to individuals based on the ‘gender’ of grave goods, even if the grave goods buried in male and female graves are similar or identical in nature. As a result of this assumption of power, the accomplishments of many women have been overshadowed or overlooked. By studying more modern-day theories of leadership, and examining Old Norse texts and sagas, along with archaeological evidence, this research aims to decipher leadership qualities, and thereby leadership roles, of women in the Viking Age.
Shanna completed her MLitt in Viking Studies with UHI in 2021. She is supervised by Prof Alex Sanmark, Dr Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, and Dr Erin Goeres.
Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) with women for sustainable rural development: a case study of a selected Maluti mountain rural community (South Africa)
Faroese and Irish/Scottish-Gaelic balladry: motifs and intercultural connections
The Faroese and the Scottish-Gaelic ballads share forms of seinn dúthchasach [culturally-rooted singing], displaying traditional acapella styles, embedded in locality and place. They developed in vernacular non-written languages, far from their respective colonial capital powers. The importance of Faroese heroic tradition is widely acknowledged, yet the lack of translation means that close study has been largely restricted to Scandinavia. A comparative analysis of the two traditions aims to negotiate and navigate the gap between the two realms.
The Phd will investigate the heroic journeys to Lochlann and Bretland as tropes and explore what are the joint motifs and intercultural connections between the fantastic exploits of Faroese and Irish/Scottish-Gaelic balladry?
The research will expore oral and literary representations of Bretland/Skotland in the Faroese ballad corpus, with comparative examples, from Scottish-Gaelic balladry of representations of Scandinavia (Lochlann). It will also present and translate several Faroese ballads in English, making them available for the first time, for contextualised study, for an English-speaking and non-Faroese audience.
Anthony is a full-time PhD student, supported by a University of the Highlands and Islands Studentship Award through the UHI Graduate School – INS Scholarship scheme.
Before he commenced his PhD in Shetland, he was based in Oslo at the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) as a visiting researcher. There he undertook a 2 month research stay funded by the University of Bergen led, CAS funded project Ballads Across Border: The Faroe Islands in the Norse Story-Telling World (BARD). He has an MLitt in Island Studies and a BA in Anthropology.
Anthony is supervised by Dr Andrew Jennings, UHI Shetland and Abigail Burnyeat, Head of Research at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI, as well as Dr Alan Macniven, Programme Director for Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh.
He is currently based at the former North Atlantic Fisheries Institute, now UHI Shetland, Scalloway campus.
The Þing in the Kings’ Sagas
This PhD project will be the first comprehensive study of the public assembly (Old Norse þing) in the Kings’ Sagas (Old Norse konungasǫgur). The Kings’ Sagas are a collection of Icelandic works compiled between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. They detail the lives of Scandinavian rulers, and thus represent crucial sources for understanding mediaeval Scandinavian history. The public assembly, on the other hand, was the focal point of decision-making in this society. As such, it often served as an intersection between royal authority and the authority of rural and urban communities.
Using an interdisciplinary approach which borrows from archaeological research on sites of assembly, literary studies on the Icelandic sagas, and historical research on royal authority, this project aims to provide new insight into the critical process of centralisation which took place within the mediaeval Scandinavian kingdoms and across the Scandinavian diaspora.
The project is funded by the University of the Highlands & Islands and the Institute for Northern Studies. Peter is based in Perth and is supervised by Prof Alexandra Sanmark, Dr Hannah Burrows and Dr Alex Woolf.
Drystane Dyking: Understanding Cultural Significance and Developing Skills in Scottish Island Communities
This PhD is funded by SGSAH and is being undertaken in collaboration with Historic Environment Scotland.
Using an ethnological approach, this project explores the cultural significance of drystone construction in Shetland and Orkney. Framing traditional crafts as Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), it explores how skills training can be provided to promote sustainable development in rural contexts. The research will examine how UNESCO’s 2018 inscription of drystone walling as ICH impacts on its international perception. The research assesses how islanders can be better supported to create opportunities in drystone walling for creativity, training, and tourism.
Niamh is a full-time student with Orkney College and she is supervised by:
Professor Mairéad Nic Craith
Professor Ullrich Kockel,
Dr Oisin Plumb
Dr Ben Thomas (HES)
Colin Tennant (HES)
Pádraig Ó Dálaigh
Pádraig Ó Dálaigh