Fully funded AHRC PhD studentship: Memory practices and the national inventory of Scotland

Memory practices and the national inventory of Scotland 



(Geography, School of GeoSciences) 

Applications are invited for an AHRC-funded PhD, a Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA), supervised jointly by the University of Edinburgh (Geography, School of GeoSciences) and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). The CDA Studentship is one of four made within the Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium, which will provide an enhanced programme of student training.

The studentship is for a PhD on the theme of ‘Memory practices and the national inventory of Scotland’ which will examine the origins, personnel and activities behind the foundation of RCAHMS. The project will be supervised by Dr. Fraser MacDonald and Professor Charles W J Withers (University of Edinburgh) and Lesley Ferguson (Head of Collections at RCAHMS). The studentship is funded for three years full time equivalent and will begin in September 2013.

The Studentship

The project will use the archives and collections of RCAHMS to consider how our knowledge of Scotland’s material past has been developed through the work of ‘amateur’ scholars such as Henry Dryden (1818-1899) and Erskine Beveridge (1851-1920). It will explore how our knowledge of Scotland’s antiquities became professionalised and institutionalised in the early twentieth century. An important context to the project is the founding of RCAHMS in 1908 as part of a wider bid to create an inventory of surviving material heritage in Scotland, an aim that is set to continue with the creation a new body soon to succeed RCAHMS and Historic Scotland. Against this background, the studentship will examine the ‘memory practices’ – the activities, technologies and forms that scholars have used to record the past. The PhD will examine how it is that we have come to our present knowledge of the historic environment. It will do so drawing on literatures in historical geography, history of science (particularly archaeology) and architectural history.

How to Apply: Intending applicants should have a good undergraduate degree, or Masters, in geography, archaeology, history, architectural history or history of science and will need to satisfy AHRC eligibility requirements. Ideally, you will have experience of relevant research methods (advanced research training is a required element of the studentship). Applicants should submit: a two-page curriculum vitae, with a brief letter outlining your qualification for the studentship; a sample of scholarly writing such as a coursework essay or thesis chapter; and the names and contact details of two academic referees.

These should be sent to: Fraser MacDonald, Institute of Geography, Drummond Street, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9XP (fraser.macdonald@ed.ac.uk) no later than 12 June 2013.

Interviews, which will be held in Edinburgh, are scheduled to take place on the afternoon of 27 June 2013. For further information regarding the studentship, please contact Fraser MacDonald (fraser.macdonald@ed.ac.uk ) / 0131 650 2293.

At Dun Torcuill, North Uist

This is one of the most distinctive ancient monuments in Scotland: Dun Torcuill, a fine Hebridean broch or, if you want to be picky, a ‘galleried dun’.


And this is the path to Dun Torcuill.

When I say path, there really isn’t one. There are, instead, a series of formidable obstacles.

In one sense that is the point of a Dun: built on water, it was to be accessible only by a narrow and sometimes submerged causeway. It was never welcoming to strangers.

But these ditches and deer fences are not part of the original fortification. Rather, visitors are just not really expected here. You can tell that from the broken Historic Scotland sign which I moved to reveal a benighted patch of chlorotic grass.

Dun Torcuill does not feature in the ordinary tourist itinerary and you will be hard pressed to find it on a postcard. This is perhaps a good thing in that the site, a scheduled ancient monument, still exists in a state of primitive grandeur.

The partly collapsed broch is now covered in lichens giving it a peculiar bearded appearance, though this is plainly not new.

It was more lightly encrusted when the antiquarian Erskine Beveridge (1851-1920) visited in the early twentieth century. This is his photo of the site.

Of the many photographs in his classic book North Uist, there is only one – here at Dun Torcuill – to feature a family member. This person is ostensibly included for scale but there is a sentiment at work here too. In all likelihood, it is either his only daughter, Mary Beveridge, or else his young second wife Meg Inglis.

I am struck by the fact that not much in this scene has changed since Beveridge took his photo. This is noteworthy because in the same period North Uist has been utterly transformed, not least its economic orientation which has seen ‘heritage’ become an axis of local development.

North Uist is one of the most remarkable prehistoric landscapes in Britain – that’s what attracted Erskine Beveridge in the first place. But the islanders are now competing with their neighbours in Harris and Lewis for the ultimate tourist drawcard: the chance to present the St Kilda story. I don’t blame them. Economically, it makes total sense.

But it is an odd circumstance when local and charismatic prehistoric structures are virtually unknown while the small, largely modern, dwellings of the St Kildans are iconic. It is hard to understand why the story of this one abandoned island has metastasised across the entire Hebridean archipelago.

Yes, I can see that St Kilda is storyable in ways that Dun Torcuill isn’t. But it troubles me that part of our collective interest in St Kilda still draws on discredited Victorian ideas of difference: a kind of freakshow historiography that has made a fetish of thick ankles and prehensile toes.

It is important to remember that there are other Hebridean stories that matter; they are often closer to hand and – perhaps as a consequence – rather more remote.

The Robo Bee

Harvard’s new RoboBee: a new step towards more sophisticated bio-mimicry and the likelihood of military applications on an analog insect body.