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Alastair Mackie's presentation at SIEF 2019



Welcome aboard!  This is the main portal of the "New Connections Across the Northern Isles" virtual museum of martime 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


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.


Co curators meet in Shetland


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.


Co curators meet in Orkney

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 Haa, Westray Heritage Centre, Cunningsburgh History Group and Orkney Historic Boat SocietyOrkney 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.

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.


New Connections - New Links


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 Past, enoo, 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. 

About New Connections 3 D Models New Interpretations
Films Sound Recordings Creative Response


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.


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Socio-cultural and linguistic sustainability and renewable energy development in island communitiesAndrew Wood Spurness Solstice

An interdisciplinary perspective

On 11 December 2017, Heriot-Watt University hosted a workshop to better understand how local communities perceive and understand the effects of climate change and renewable energy development on their social and cultural sustainability.

Applications are now open for a three-year PhD studentship onSGSAH logo

Living Tradition and Cultural Revival:

Scottish Folk Drama in the 21st Century

A collaboration between

  • Intercultural Research Centre, Heriot-Watt University
  • Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh
  • Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS), Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh

Folk play in the broadest sense is experiencing a revival in Scotland. In recent years, we have seen the reintroduction of a variety of forms of community drama traditionally performed throughout Britain since the medieval period. The Intercultural Research Centre (Heriot-Watt University), Celtic and Scottish Studies (University of Edinburgh) and Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS, Scottish Storytelling Centre) are offering an Applied Research Collaborative Studentship (ARCS) for a project entitled Living Tradition and Cultural Revival: Scottish Folk Drama in the 21st Century to start in January 2018. This ARCS is one of five such studentships funded nationally by the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities (SGSAH) and the partner HEIs.

This research project examines the reasons behind the resurgence of interest in this old art form and folk custom and its cultural implications. It seeks to investigate the motivations for participants and what these can tell us about modern attitudes to concepts like tradition and authenticity. Through the partnership with TRACS, which has been at the forefront of this renewal, the project offers a unique chance to examine revival in action.

The main aim of the project is to explore the place of revived folk drama in contemporary Scottish society through the following objectives are: to produce a survey of Scottish folk drama activities today; to examine community-led performances and related activities ethnographically; to evaluate the motivations and aspirations of participants and organisers and to assess their contribution to aspects of local identity, ideas of tradition, and community dynamics; to investigate how folk drama as a living practice contributes to developing conceptualisations of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Scotland; and to contribute to the newly emerging ‘Creative Ethnology’ movement led by the three institutions involved.

A central aspect of this ARCS is that it involves extensive placements at TRACS, which allow for practice-based and participatory research, e.g. in the form of developing a performance or workshops and community engagement activities centred around the practice of traditional drama. Thus you will gain experience of working within a relatively new and dynamic national organisation which plays a key role in the ongoing development of arts and culture in Scotland and be able to engage with a wide range of theatre groups, heritage groups and other associations.

Further information about the project can also be found on the SGSAH website.

Supervisory team:

Principal Supervisor: Dr Kerstin Pfeiffer (Heriot-Watt University)

Co-Supervisors: Prof. Gary West and Dr Neill Martin (University of Edinburgh)

Non-Academic Supervisor: Dr Donald Smith (TRACS, Scottish Storytelling Centre)

All applications will be reviewed by the supervisory team with a shortlisting decision made based on qualifications. Shortlisted candidates will be notified by the end of November and interviews will take place on Wednesday, 6 December 2017.

Applicants should hold a First Class undergraduate degree in an Arts/ Humanities subject and a Masters level qualification preferably of the same calibre, completed by October 2017. Those applying who hold a good 2:1 in their first degree will be considered on merit. As the doctoral project will rely on ethnographic and participatory methods, candidates should ideally be able to demonstrate a relevant component to their undergraduate or Masters degree and/or the desire and ability to engage with these methodologies.

The successful candidate must satisfy the general PhD entry requirements of Heriot-Watt University, including an English language requirement. Please note that meeting the minimum qualifications does not guarantee shortlisting for interview.

Applicants who are unsure if their qualifications meet the minimum criteria should contact

Informal enquiries about the project can be directed to and


How to apply

Please submit your application using our online form.

Thank you for adding your details. We'll be in contact soon.

Intangible Heritage - Why should we care?

Being an expert on all things to do with heritage, Máiréad was invited by the United Nations in 2011 to advise on access to heritage as a human right. The preservation of intangible heritage is something she is deeply passionate about, and she continues to build on to this awareness and its importance in her work.

Our People

Regional Expertise: Nordic Countries, Scotland
Research Interests: accounting, Gaelic, economic impact of, islands, microbreweries
Regional Expertise: Lithuania, Scotland
Research Interests: home, migration
Regional Expertise: European Union, Republic of Ireland
Research Interests: cultural policy, memory