PhD Studentship: The origins and history of distilling and whisky production in the Scottish Highlands and Islands: an historical and archaeological approach

University of the Highlands and Islands - Orkney College UHI (Archaeology Institute)

Funding for: UK, EU & International students
Funding amount: UK/EU fees & stipend (RCUK rate) for 42 months

This PhD will research the origins of distilling in the Highlands and Islands through examining archaeological and historical evidence for small scale whisky production in both pre-18th century, and in illicit 18th and 19th century, contexts. The research will provide a historical, landscape and social context for the practice and processes of distilling and production of whisky, providing selected distilleries with in depth knowledge of the antiquity and nature of distilling in the area. Because historical evidence is lesser for earlier periods and for illicit stills, the combination of historical and archaeological approaches creates an innovative PhD opportunity. We now better understand the economic diversity of the Highlands and Islands, a region previously assumed to exist only in chronically poverty-stricken subsistence. Distilling, as pointed out by T.M. Devine (1994) and J. Hunter (2016), is clear evidence of the innovative capacities of locals, responsive to local and national markets. As society’s attention focuses on how to utilise land and natural resources sustainably, understanding how this was done in the past on marginal agricultural land, is of particular interest. The research may take a variety of approaches, drawing on historical and archaeological methods including field study and archival research.  The studentship will engage closely with selected distilleries and surrounding communities within the case study areas, and it is anticipated that local communities will be engaged in aspects of archival, oral and archaeological research. The following lines of enquiry and methods may be explored during the studentship:

  • - As some community-based archaeological surveys of stills has already been undertaken, this material will be collated and used to target further survey work.
  • - A detailed regional/local study would enable the student to understand the role of distilling in local economies, cultures and in agricultural/land use choices.
  • - Case study areas will be selected where documentary evidence is good, such as in east Sutherland, and where there are known archaeological remains or where there is potential for finding stills through archaeological survey.
  • - The student will also examine the broader extent and nature of illicit distilling in order to better understand its chronological and geographic characterisation.

Supervisory Team

The PhD studentship will be supervised by Professor Jane Downes of UHI Archaeology Institute based in Orkney and Dr Elizabeth Ritchie of UHI Centre for History based in Dornoch, in collaboration with Dr Piers Dixon of Historic Environment Scotland.

To apply:

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This studentship is funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Fund Programme.

The studentship covers fees at the Home/EU rate only, plus a stipend at the RCUK level, for a total of 42 months (including writing-up).

PLEASE NOTE: Funding is available for students worldwide, however non UK/EU students will be liable for the difference between home/EU and international fees.

Students must be domiciled in the Highlands and Islands transition region during the course of their study to be eligible for funding.

Applicants must possess a minimum of an Honours degree at 2:1 and/or a Masters Degree (or International equivalent) in a relevant subject.

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