Successful PhD students

PhD student successes content

PhD student successes

We are privileged to have been part of the academic successes of a number of our students. You can read more about them via the dropdown menu below, some of which have links to their online thesis.

Dr Andrea Freund content

Dr Andrea Freund

Dr Andrea Freund

Runic writing in the Viking diaspora: expression of a Norse identity?

  • An Applied Research Collaborative Studentship (ARCS) project
  • Partners: University of the Highlands and Islands, Institute for Northern Studies, Orkney Museums and Heritage (Orkney Islands Council), Centre for Scandinavian Studies, University of Aberdeen

This project proposed a comparative study of the corpus of runic inscriptions from the entire Scandinavian diaspora in the North Atlantic region, and looks at runic literacy as a means of expressing identity. 

Editions and evaluations of the runic corpus tend to focus on certain regions (eg Lisbeth Imer on the use of runes in Greenland) and seldom examine connections throughout the Scandinavian diaspora in-depth. By interpreting runic inscriptions as witness of an extended network of literacy across the North Atlantic, Andrea seeks to establish connections and larger patterns of common traits, and examine cultural and linguistic exchange with other cultures inhabiting the region.

The project has a natural place within the growing field of research on the Viking diaspora, also taking into account recent work on Gaelic influence on Viking culture, language and place-names as well as DNA studies and key archaeological features. This makes it possible to view the Viking settlement of the North Atlantic Isles from a new perspective which has not been fully explored so far and will shed light on the growing area of Viking diaspora research from a new angle.

The key research question for the project is: do runic inscriptions in the diaspora, individually and as a corpus, show any unique characteristics, compared to inscriptions from mainland Scandinavia, which date from the corresponding periods, i.e. Viking Age and Medieval period? Can the runic inscriptions be viewed as expressions of a unique and new Norse diaspora identity?

Andrea is based in Germany and she was supervised by Dr Alex Sanmark, Prof Stefan Brink and Gail Drinkall.


Dr Anne Artymiuk content

Dr Anne Artymiuk

Dr Anne Artymiuk

Today’s No Ground to Stand Upon: a Study of the Life and Poetry of George Campbell Hay

Anne researched the 20th century Scottish poet George Campbell Hay. Recognised by his contemporaries, including Hugh MacDiarmid and Sorley MacLean, as a leading poet of his generation, Hay was largely lost to sight after World War Two due to recurring bouts of severe mental disturbance which led to many years of hospitalisation.

Taking inspiration from Kay Redfield Jamieson, a leading expert on  the inter-relationship of mental illness and artistic creativity, Anne’s research focused on the space where biography, poetry and psychology meet, and her work has illustrated the way in which each of these separate aspects of the poet illuminate the others.

Anne was recently responsible (2017) for the addition of George Campbell Hay to The Makar’s Court Memorial at the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh.

Anne is based in Orkney and was supervised by Professor Donna Heddle


Dr Gillian Beattie-Smith content

Dr Gillian Beattie-Smith

Dr Gillian Beattie-Smith

Romantic Subjectivity: the creation and performance of women’s identity in nineteenth century travel literature about Scotland

Women’s identities are created and performed relational to the contexts in which they live and by which they are bound.  Identities are performed within and against those contexts.  Romantic subjectivity: women’s identity in their nineteenth-century travel writing about Scotland, is concerned with the location of women and their creation and construction of relational identity in their personal narratives of the nineteenth century.

The texts taken for study are travel journals, memoires, and diaries, each of which narrates times and journeys in Scotland.  The subjects of study are Sarah Stoddart Hazlitt, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Elizabeth Grant.  The texts considered are Journal of My Trip to Scotland, 1803 and Journal of my second tour in Scotland, 1822, written by Dorothy Wordsworth; and Memoirs of a Highland Lady, written by Elizabeth Grant about her life before 1830.

The focus of study is Romantic subjectivity in the texts of the three women writers.  Women’s relational performatitivy to the prevailing social and cultural norms is examined and considered in the context of women as authors, women’s travel writing, and ideologies of women’s place in the nineteenth century.

  • She is based in Edinburgh
  • Supervised by Professor Donna Heddle
Title Romantic subjectivity : women's identity in their nineteenth-century travel writing about Scotland
Author Beattie-Smith, Gillian L.
Awarding Body University of Aberdeen and University of the Highlands and Islands
Current Institution University of Aberdeen
Date of Award 2017


Dr Marc Chivers content

Dr Marc Chivers

Dr Marc Chivers

The Traditional Shetland Boat

The Shetland boat is central to the economic and cultural development of the Shetland Isles. These boats were used for fishing and transportation and their ancestry can be traced back to the arrival of the first Norwegian Viking settlers in about 780 AD. The fact that the design of these boats changed little over the Centuries is testament to their seaworthiness and practicality of use. A cooling in climate in the fifteenth century led to fish stocks moving offshore and resulted in the development of the Far Haaf fishery. This deep-water fishing, right on the edge of the continental shelf, required larger boats and so the Sixern was born.

The expansion of the herring fishing in the 1880’s lead Shetland fishermen away from the relatively small open boats of the Sixern and Fourern and Instead they adopted the larger, partly decked, and at the time, more economically viable Scottish Fifies and Zulus. Although no longer commercially viable the Shetland model of boat is indelibly marked in the fishing folk culture of Shetland. His research will investigate the incorporation of the Shetland model of boat into the material folk culture of the Shetland people.

  • Marc Chivers is based in Shetland
  • Supervised by Dr Andrew Jennings

Title:                        Shetland vernacular boats, 1500-2000

Author:                    Chivers, Marc Leonard  

Awarding Body:       University of Aberdeen and University of the Highlands and Islands

Current Institution: University of Aberdeen

Date of Award:        2017


Dr Jill de Fresnes content

Dr Jill de Fresnes

Dr Jill de Fresnes

Image and Identity: The lives of the herring girls 1900-1950

The fishing industry has always had an important part to play in both the economy and the social history of both the UK and of Scotland.  Many communities around the coasts over the centuries used fish as a vital part of a subsistence lifestyle.  It was not until the late c18th and throughout the c19th before herring became of increasing importance as a valuable export from UK shores to Russia, to Germany, America and all over the world.  Thousands of fishermen and other fish workers depended for their livelihoods on the migrating shoals of herring, which travelled annually around the coast. 

Amongst these workers were the herring girls – literally thousands of women who travelled across the country and down the coastline.  They went out to the Northern Isles, down the east coast of Scotland and into the main fishing ports of England, following the boats which were following the shoals of herring as they migrated around the UK coastline.

Jill’s thesis detailed their working and resting lives and created a new kind of visual sociology methodology to do so.

Dr Fresnes was a Research Fellow after graduating at the UHI Centre for History.  She now works as Skills for the Future Project Manager at the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland in Edinburgh.

  • Supervised by Professor Heddle and graduated in 2010
Title Image and identity : The lives of the Scots herring Girls 1900-1950
Author Jill de Fresnes
Awarding Body: The Open University
Current Institution: Open University
Date of Award 2010
Availability of Full Text Full text unavailable from EThOS. Restricted access. Please contact the current institution’s library for further details.


Dr Shane McLeod content

Dr Shane McLeod

Dr Shane McLeod

Migration and Acculturation: the impact of the Norse on Eastern England, c865-900

The conquest and settlement of lands in eastern England by Scandinavians represents an extreme migratory episode. The cultural interaction involved one group forcing themselves upon another from a position of military and political power. Despite this seemingly dominant position, by 900 CE the immigrants appear to have largely adopted the culture of the Anglo-Saxons whom they had recently defeated. Informed by migration theory, this work proposes that a major factor in this assimilation was the emigration point of the Scandinavians and the cultural experiences which they brought with them.

Although some of the Scandinavians may have emigrated directly from Scandinavia most of the first generation of settlers apparently commenced their journey in either Ireland or northern Francia. Consequently, it is the culture of Scandinavians in these regions that need to be assessed in searching for the cultural impact of Scandinavians upon eastern England. This may help to explain how the immigrants adapted to aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture, such as the issuing of coinage and at least public displays of Christianity, relatively quickly. The geographic origins of the Scandinavians also explain some of the innovations introduced by the migrants, including the use of client kings and the creation of ‘buffer’ states.

Dr MacLeod has lectured at the University of West Australia. He is now a Post-doctoral Research Fellow in the University of Stirling, Department of History. His study has recently been published as The Beginning of Scandinavian Settlement in England. The Viking ‘Great Army’ and Early Settlers, c865-900.

  • Supervised by Dr Alex Sanmark and graduated in 2011


Dr Jane Blair MacMorran content

Dr Jane Blair MacMorran

Dr Jane Blair MacMorran

The Musical Legacy of Ron Gonnella, Scottish Fiddler 1930-1994

Jane’s thesis determined the musical legacy of Scottish fiddler Ron Gonnella—in particular, the popularization of jigs and the re-invigoration of eighteenth and nineteenth-century fiddle repertoire. Born in Dundee in 1930, Gonnella was well known through his BBC Scotland performances, his extensive discography of Scots fiddle and dance band recordings, his role as competition adjudicator, international performer and collaborator with the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society and many of its branches. In spite of Gonnella’s popularity and extensive body of work, he has been largely neglected in the formal literature, evidenced by the fact that he is included in the work of only four authors (Emmerson 1972, Donaldson 1986, Alburger 1996, Duesenberry 2000). This thesis, therefore, contributed hitherto uncollected information on Gonnella’s life and extensive body of work; and represents an original contribution to the formal literature relating to the Scottish fiddling tradition.

  • She is based in Tennessee, USA
  • She was supervised by Professor Donna Heddle


Dr Silke Reeploeg content

Dr Silke Reeploeg

Dr Silke Reeploeg

Nordic Regions of Culture: Modern Intercultural links between Shetland and Norway

This thesis aims to address the central research question of how Nordic regions of culture and memory are created and maintained over time within Northern Europe.  The history and culture of Scotland has been shaped by its relationships with other cultures across the North Atlantic and the North Sea, with North America, Ireland, Continental Europe and Scandinavia, but in particular with Norway.

The research focuses on understanding the continuing intercultural connections between Norway and Scotland after 1707 by examining national and regional historiographical contexts alongside cultural narratives (both national, sub- and transnational), and relating them to the wider, sometimes conflicting, but also converging,  regionalisation or ‘identity management’ dynamics of European regions and states in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this, the thesis examines the transnational 'cultural region' connecting Scotland and Norway well beyond the Viking period.

Using case studies from the Shetland Islands and Western Norway, the thesis argues for the existence of an intercultural history that connects the two countries over a much longer period of time as has previously been thought, but in particular the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  By showing how both hidden and obvious transnational “regions of culture” can be documented, the thesis critically explores both direct structural links, such as coastal trade, but also socio-cultural activities such as boatbuilding traditions, and relates them to political and ideological cultural phenomena such as national and regional historiographies.

  • Supervised by Professor Donna Heddle


Title Between Scotland and Norway : connected cultures and intercultural encounters 1700-present
Author Reeploeg, Silke
Awarding Body University of Aberdeen
Current Institution University of Aberdeen
Date of Award 2017

Dr Tom Rendall content

Dr Tom Rendall

Dr Tom Rendall

The effects of inmigration on Orkney dialect

Tom Rendall was born on the island of Sanday (1951) at a small farm called The Meadow. He was educated at Sanday Junior High and left school age 15 with no qualifications. The local headmaster – John D Mackay – was keen to assist students who wanted to pursue some O levels and Highers. Tom passed 5 O levels and Higher English.

In 1975 Tom commenced his studies with the Open University and studied while working on the farm and also acting as Company Secretary of the Isle of Sanday Knitters. He graduated with a BA in 1983 – and added Honours by 1985.

In 1990, Tom married and moved to Kirkwall. He worked as a Tourist Information Centre Manager with Orkney Tourist Board from 1992 – 2001. During this time he studied for his second degree with the Open University – a BSc.  His subjects have been mostly social science based.

From 2002-2010 Tom worked as a part-time lecturer at Orkney College – teaching tourism courses and also running Orcadian Studies classes. Since leaving the College Tom has worked at the Kirkwall Grammar School in the Curriculum Support Department. He has also worked at the Orkney Museum and the Tomb of the Eagles.

Over the past 8 years Tom has carried out research in attitudes towards the use of dialect in Orkney culminating in the award of a Doctor of Philosophy. He has also worked on two small scale dialect projects and has published a report on one of those studies: Voices aroond the Flow He graduated at the St Magnus Cathedral on the 27th September 2013 and described this as “ one of the best days of my life”.

  • Dr Rendall was supervised by Professor Donna Heddle


Dr Tudor Skinner content

Dr Tudor Skinner

Dr Tudor Skinner

Impact and change: The dynamics of political assembly in the Danelaw AD400-1100

This project seeks to characterise the dynamic relations between meeting places and their associated administrative divisions in the early medieval northeast. The study area focuses upon the northern extent of what was the Danelaw, a Scandinavian territory in the region formerly occupied by the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. This is targeted here through the historic counties of Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland, extending northwards to the Lothians of southeastern Scotland. This investigation forms one of the components of The Assembly Project - Meeting Places in Northern Europe, AD400-1500, and thus will ultimately seek to set the analysis within the ambit of wider developments in northwestern Europe as a whole.

The early medieval northeast witnessed drastic shifts in its political makeup at the close of the Roman era. From post-Roman polities and Anglian kingdoms through to the Scandinavian settlement and the changes wrought by the Norman Conquest, the region has been redefined and reframed on numerous occasions. While the primary objective of the present project is to analyse those developments and practices associated with the Danelaw, this cannot be achieved without detailed recourse to and analysis of the long term political development of the region, and likewise of its subsequent history.

This draws upon numerous strands of evidence in order to map and analyse the shifting landscape, combining established emphases upon documentary sources and place-names with an ever growing corpus of archaeological data. The stress is twofold, developing a dynamic picture in place of static snapshots while bringing the archaeology, thus far the junior partner of assembly-studies, to the forefront. While the paucity of documentary evidence for the northeast necessitates a stronger material component, this differential focus offers exciting new opportunities to contextualise assembly sites within wider archaeological landscapes, in relation to parallel studies into settlement, burial, land-use and material culture - in effect to move attention towards landscapes, rather than merely sites, of political assembly.

  • Tudor Skinner is based in Durham
  • Supervised by Dr Alex Sanmark, jointly with staff at Durham
Title Impact and change : assembly practices in the Northern Danelaw
Author Skinner, Alexis Tudor
Awarding Body Durham University
Current Institution Durham University
Date of Award 2014


Dr Angela Watt content

Dr Angela Watt

Dr Angela Watt

The Implications of Cultural Interchange in Scalloway, Shetland, with reference to a perceived Nordic-based Heritage

Shetland’s geographical location has long been considered remote or isolated from a centralised Scottish perspective. However, as an island group situated between the neighbouring landmasses of Scotland and Norway, Shetland is directly situated on the maritime highway of the North Atlantic Rim. The mobilising quality of the maritime highway created a path of entry into the islands, allowing the development of locational narratives, but has also resulted in the loss of some of these narratives.

This investigation addresses the dynamics of cultural interchange by formulating a theoretical model of the exchange of ‘cultural products’; with particular regard for practices of recording and displaying visual narratives. The ancient capital of Shetland, Scalloway, provides the background for a microcosmic account of Shetland’s wider history and cultural composition and forms the main focus of the thesis. Within this setting the process of cultural interchange can be seen to have been formative in the development of island identity; particularly in traditional practices, occupational forms, dialect, place-names and cultural expressions.

The historical account of Scalloway provides material culture evidence for human occupation reaching back to the Bronze Age. Successive ‘layers’ in the archaeological record and officially recorded histories indicate distinct periods pertinent in the development of a local identity; Iron Age, Norse Era, Stewart Earldom and World War Two. Collectively, these periods represent a consecutive process of ‘imprinting’ characteristics upon the local population; including geographical positioning, dialect, political control and shared narrative histories with Norway during the Second World War. However, it can be seen that there is an over-determination of the Norse element of island identity, which finds a greater degree of replication in visual accounts. It is argued in this investigation that this over-determination is a deliberate cultural construct of island identity that is maintained in opposition to Scottish control.

  • She is based in Shetland
  • She was supervised by Professor Donna Heddle and graduated in 2013
Title The implications of cultural interchange in Scalloway, Shetland, with reference to a perceived Nordic heritage
Author Watt, Angela
Awarding Body University of Aberdeen
Current Institution University of Aberdeen
Date of Award 2012

Dr Lydia Crow content

Dr Lydia Crow

Dr Lydia Crow

With the rise of social media networks in recent years, the internet has become the largest research site available, offering the researcher a lens through which to examine contemporary expressions of identity relating to the self, as well as to perceived communities and groups.

This research analysed the way in which Orcadian folklore is referenced in blogging and across various social media networks, and considered its relationship to identities associated with Orkney today.

Lydia is interested in online and offline ethnographic research approaches, qualitative methods used to analyse online data, and the development of folklore as a field of study in the twenty-first century, with a specific interest in digital folklore.

Lydia is currently based in Edinburgh and Inverness, and was supervised by Dr Andrew Jennings