Place-based cultural research (1994-2016)

‘The Pinning Stones’ Cultural mapping in Aberdeenshire (2014)

Aberdeenshire does not lack assets, natural or human. From the Cairngorms National Park, the largest such in the British Isles, to the spectacular coasts of Buchan and Kincardineshire, it holds immense and varied treasures of landscape, ora and fauna. For millennia, its inhabitants have depended on those natural resources: the wheat, oats and barley grown in the better elds, the cattle and sheep fed on pasture and moor; the wood, clay and stone for building; game from the heather and fish from burn and sea; and now, the oil and the gas and the wind. In making the most of those assets, again over millennia, the peoples of North East Scotland have created unique ways of life expressed in their cultures. 

The traces are everywhere. There are obvious ones, like the stone circles, tombs and monuments, vitri ed forts and hill towns, symbol stones, kirks, abbeys and chapels, castles, manses and great houses, gardens and parks, Royal Burghs and planned towns, distilleries and warehouses, colleges and academies, village halls, institutes and so much more. There are less obvious traces too, like the tracks that people have walked for 10,000 years, the unique language of the ‘loons an quines’, the satire of Bothy Ballads, the place name legacies of long lost people, the airs, the steps, the stories and all the rest. And there is the rich diversity of today’s culture, connecting all that past and its traditions with new ideas from a world of global travel, virtual communication and advanced technology, in which ever more people earn a living as artists and the rest of us spend ever more time and money enjoying what they do, or doing it ourselves, for the love of it.’

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‘Stories and Fables’ Cultural development in Orkney (2013)

This study was commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise with the aim of understanding how cultural life in the Orkney Islands has developed over the past 30 years. Recognising that Orkney has been particularly successful in this field, notably through the St Magnus International Festival, the Pier Arts Centre and the craft industries, HIE wished to see whether there were transferable lessons that other parts of the region might draw upon. The study is unusual in two ways. First, because it tries to trace what has hap; pened in a community’s cultural life over a long period of time: the natural starting point – the late 1970s, when both the St Magnus Festival and the Pier Arts Centre were established – is a time when James Callaghan was Prime Minister. Secondly, it is unusual in its focus with why things happened in the ways that they did: in seeking explanations for the distinctive successes of Orcadian cultural development.

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