Heriot Watt University

SGSAH ARCS Studentship

Curating Heritage for Sustainable Communities in Highly Vulnerable Environments:
The Case of Scotland's Northern Isles

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A collaboration between

  • Intercultural Research Centre, Heriot-Watt University
  • Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands
  • Shetland Museums and Archives
  • Learning for Sustainability Scotland

Funding period: November 2016 to October 2019

Researcher: Catherine J McCullagh

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.

The aim of this project is to open up the maritime heritage of the Northern Isles as a cultural resource for sustainable community development and care for that resource. This is achieved through the following objectives:

  1. a survey assessing the accessibility of tangible and intangible maritime heritage, including place names, narratives, and objects of the sea
  2. interpretation of the heritages of past, present and future from a critical heritage perspective based on a thorough review of literature and practice in the field
  3. community engagement with these heritages through creative responses to selected aspects and items
  4. co-curation of examples of maritime heritage, both as representations in their own right (e.g. as exhibition) and as templates suitable for transfer to other local contexts
  5. exploring the significance of heritage with reference to the SDGs and integrating heritage into a community-oriented framework of learning for sustainability

A central aspect of this ARCS is that the studentship is practice-based, enabling the student to engage with local heritage groups and other associations, artists and makers, historians and other interested individuals through museum-based activities, which expand the scope of the outreach activities of the Shetland Museums and Archives. Specifically, dissemination activities include creation of a broad-based, multidisciplinary Northern Isles network engaging with the range and complexities of heritages in the Northern Isles. The project generates the initial framework for a continuing, co-curated virtual museum and resource to support learning for sustainability, including hands-on training for community curators, which expands the scope of LfSS-linked activities in the field of heritage and community development, creating transferable environmental learning models as a contribution to Scotland's fulfilment of the SDGs.

Principal Supervisor: Prof. Ullrich Kockel (Heriot-Watt University)

Co-Supervisor: Prof. Donna Heddle (University of the Highlands and Islands)

Non-Academic Supervisor: Dr Ian Tait (Shetland Museums and Archives)

For further details, please contact Catherine J McCullagh.

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