PhD Students


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.

Read more about our past students and their work.

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.

Lynn Campbell content

Lynn Campbell

Lynn Campbell

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.


Cait McCullagh content

Cait McCullagh

Cait McCullagh

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.


Tara Athanasiou content

Tara Athanasiou

Tara Athanasiou

Place, Space and Mobility – Female Networks in the Viking Age and Early Medieval Period

Tara’s PhD research is centred around gendered space and mobility in the Viking Age and early medieval period. Her thesis will examine how female mobility was enacted across the full spectrum of physical space, from within the ‘home’ itself, the community and district through to movement over significant geographical space. It will also examine mobility that involved contact with non-Scandinavian polities and cultures, both those in close geographical proximity to the Norse, such as the Sámi, as well as those separated from Scandinavia by significant geographical distance.

Her research examines the different types of mobility in which women participated, comparing this to male mobility and analysing how this reflected the social construction of space and place within the Viking Age and early medieval period. Although mobility is experienced at an individual level and at a macro-level it is part of broad societal trends, the ability to be mobile, the factors that trigger it and the way that it is culturally viewed and individually experienced are dependent on the social groups to which individual actors belonged. The ability of a person to leverage and be supported by social networks (whether kinship, friendship, political, economic or religious) and the social and cultural capital that person has within the group underpins their ability to be mobile as much as the economic means to enact movement. This research will therefore examine the groups and networks that women belonged tom, how these both enabled and inhibited their mobility and how they operated within and experienced different spaces and places. It will also examine the concept of agency in mobility and migration.

Tara undertook her BA degree in social anthropology at the University of Cambridge and returned to further education, after some years, as a part-time student at the University of the Highlands and Islands’ (UHI) Institute for Northern Studies (INS). She was awarded the MLitt Viking Studies with Distinction in 2020 and is currently a PhD student at UHI.

Tara’s MLitt research focused on gender in the Viking Age and early medieval period. Her dissertation examined gendered identities in the Viking Age diasporic island hubs of Orkney and the Isle of Man and was awarded the Best Dissertation Award 2020 by the Institute for Northern Studies. She is now developing her research around the themes of gender, mobility and migration in her PhD studies at UHI. She is being supervised by Prof Alexandra Sanmark & Prof Stefan Brink, both of the INS at UHI, and Dr Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir, Nasjonalbiblioteket.

Evelyn Anderson content

Evelyn Anderson

Evelyn Anderson

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

Adele Lidderdale content

Adele Lidderdale

Adele Lidderdale

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.

Shanna Bryman content

Shanna Bryman

Shanna Bryman

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.

Hloniphile Khuzwayo content

Hloniphile Khuzwayo

Hloniphile Khuzwayo

Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) with women for sustainable rural development: a case study of a selected Maluti mountain rural community (South Africa)

Anthony Olsson content

Anthony Olsson

Anthony Olsson

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.

Peter Randall content

Peter Randall

Peter Randall

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.

Erica Clarkson content

Erica Clarkson

Erica Clarkson

HAPPY ISLAND LIVES: Perceptions of happiness and well-being on Scottish islands with islands around the world, but especially the Maltese Islands and the Faroe Islands (working title).

This PhD is funded by the Scottish Government and is being undertaken to support delivery of Scotland’s National Islands Plan and implementation of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018.

This study is about perceptions of happiness and well-being on islands. It seeks specifically to identify what ‘happiness’ looks like at an island level in Scotland whilst drawing comparisons with other island communities around the world. Whilst it addresses island happiness on a global level, it takes a much deeper look at Scotland’s islands alongside one island nation in Northern Europe and one in Southern Europe. This is because of the Islands (Scotland) Act, 2018 and its resultant National Islands Plan are particularly important in a European context. The general purpose of this work is to provide a more nuanced overview of island happiness/well-being in Scotland in order to inform the design of future islands policy and to gain a better understanding of the ‘emotions’ that Scottish islanders feel about their islands. To do this well, Erica hopes to expand the remit of her work to include learning from islands around the world, and she has started to connect with relevant policy makers and stakeholders who are currently engaging in implementing relevant policies on their own islands. Erica’s overall ambition is to unearth what truly brings happiness and a sense of well-being to islanders, and as importantly, what does not. Her hope is that this work will help to create a ‘futures narrative’ to inform policymakers of what might be done to make Scotland’s islands better places to live, and to help our islanders become happier people.

Erica is the Head of the Islands Policy Unit in the Scottish Government and is carrying out her PhD on a part-time basis. Alongside her main work, she is currently partially seconded to the Islands and Small States Institute at the University of Malta.

Niamh MacKenzie content

Niamh MacKenzie

Niamh MacKenzie

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 content

Pádraig Ó Dálaigh

Pádraig Ó Dálaigh

The Tradition of Unbaptised Infants’ Burial Grounds (Cillíní/Killeens) in South-West Cork, Ireland

This research aims to conduct comprehensive and scholarly research on the topic of unbaptised infants’ burial grounds in the south-west regions of County Cork, Ireland. Dead neonate and stillbirth infants were not allowed by the Church (Canon Law 1239) to be buried in consecrated ground. Instead, they were buried quickly with only a few family members attending the funeral. The mother did not generally attend the funeral at all and the Catholic priest was another noticeable absentee. The dead child was dressed in a white cloth, placed in a shoebox or makeshift box and was barely waked at all. They were buried in fields near the home, in ringforts (with otherworldly connotations), in old disused churchyards, in abandoned graveyards, near water sources, at crossroads, near field and or townland boundaries, on hills, in marginal woodland and marginal bogland. These burial sites were named Cillíní/Killeens as well as other names.

The thesis will research how the locations of these burial sites were reflected in the onomastic evidence pertaining to these minor placenames within the various townland names in question. It is proposed that various aspects and characteristics of killeens be examined, for example, the perceived number of killeens countrywide, the notion of separate burial, the presence or absence of rude uninscribed grave-markers, shapes of killeens, measurements of killeens, the timescale of killeens (c. 1600-1965), the eventual abandonment of killeens (following decrees of the Second Vatican Council, 1962-5, which marked a softening in the strict Catholic doctrine regarding such infants being buried in un-consecrated ground only, which doctrine had been in place since the Council of Trent (which ended in 1563) and which stipulated (inter alia) that Canon Law 1239 be strictly enforced in relation to burials such as these during a period of reinvigorated Catholicism of the Counter Reformation in Ireland. Folklore and cultural customs associated with these sites will also be investigated.

Supervisors: Prof Mairéad Nic Craith, Dr Oisín Plumb, Dr Andrew Lind

Suzanne Collyer content

Suzanne Collyer

Suzanne Collyer

What’s in a name? The Western Isles as a Central Place during the Viking Age

The Western Isles (Outer Hebrides) of Scotland played a pivotal role as a ‘central place’ along a prominent sea highway during the Viking Age (c. 793 – 1066 CE). Nestled between the Viking strongholds in Orkney and the Isle of Man, the Western Isles must surely have formed an important destination for the many raiders, traders, and slavers active in the North Atlantic Sea during the Viking Age. Resultant of the islands’ strategic position, they became a melting pot of numerous cultures and were of critical importance to the economic, political, religious, and cultural milieu of the time. The people of the Western Isles were undoubtedly influenced by surrounding ethnic groups, including: the Orkney Jarldom to the north, the Gaelic Kingdom of Dál Riata to the south, the Pictish people of the mainland, the petty kingdoms of Ireland, the Viking settlements of Iceland, the Faroe Islands, York, Dublin, and the Danelaw, as well as other groups of roaming Vikings from Scandinavia. The interconnections between these groups resulted in the ethnogenesis of a distinct hybrid culture, that of Suðreyjar, whose narrative can be told through an analysis of a range of disparate primary and secondary sources. Often regarded as a backwater of the Viking expansion into the west, the Western Isles of Scotland have not yet been examined as a central place, an evidentiary lacuna this PhD thesis intends to fill.

Suzy completed her MLitt in Viking Studies with UHI in 2021. She is supervised by Dr Oisín Plumb and Prof Stefan Brink.

Rebecca Cornwell content

Rebecca Cornwell

Rebecca Cornwell

Precious Persistence: The Ecological Legacy of Shetland Botanical Writing for our Modern Understanding and Experience of Rare Plants in the Face of Climate Change

Shetland botanical writing is rich in scientific, environmental, and cultural detail, giving vivid insight into how flora is experienced and the flourishing transfer of local plant knowledge into the wider community. This project will reinterpret historical botanical writings seeking a traceable connection from original plant recording to current ecological research. Through lived experience past and present, it will explore how our modern understanding of and relationship with Shetland rare plants is being shaped in the face of increasing habitat fragility and biodiversity loss due to climate change. Knowledge of past environments is essential for understanding contemporary ecological communities, offering valuable insights into the changing relationships between people and nature, informing conservation activities and public awareness of rare species. Outputs will provide valuable context to understand contemporary perceptions and understanding of rare and vulnerable species, and to improve quality and completeness of biological records, providing a novel approach to overcoming the chronic issue of shifting-baseline-syndrome where knowledge is lost between generations, leading to an incomplete understanding of how nature is changing.

This PhD is funded by SGSAH and is being undertaken in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Rebecca is a full-time student with UHI Orkney and based in Perth.

She is supervised by: Professor Donna Heddle (Institute for Northern Studies), Dr Rosalind Bryce (Centre for Mountain Studies) and Dr Aline Finger (RBGE).