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QUADRAT DTP: The Historical Ecology of Lowland Hill-scapes: assessing the impact of post-Medieval settlement colonisation on relationships between humans, animals and plants


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  Dr J Oliver, Dr Gill Plunkett, Prof Kate Britton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Human colonisation of uninhabited environments and changes in how landscapes are used can profoundly influence ecological suites of animals and plants. Human activity in such areas creates new zones of interaction between humans, animals, plants, and the broader landscape. Human communities also create physical, ecological, and socio-cultural space for animals and plants, including domestic and commensal species, macro- and micro-fauna and flora, and are shaped, in turn, by those new environments on a range of levels. Addressing changes in human landscape use alongside concurrent (or resulting) changes in human-animal-environmental relationships using an integrated approach can provide unique insights into the past (Jones and Britton 2019).

One of the more challenging places to examine the complexities of human-environmental encounters is in upland environments. The Lowlands of Scotland are best known for their nutrient rich valleys and Enlightenment-era agricultural improvements. However, the Lowlands also possess significant upland areas of moorland and peat bog. In the 18th and 19th centuries, hills and other upland areas – the Lowland’s’ remaining internal frontiers – became the focus of settler colonisation by impoverished ‘crofter colonists’ of both sponsored and informal ‘squatter’ colonies (Oliver et al 2016). In this context, lowland hillsides witnessed an abrupt change from millennia of low intensity transhumant pastoralism to intensive areas of subsistence agriculture, herding, peatbog exploitation and, in some places, capitalist farming. While studies of the social and economic impact of Enlightenment-period interventions have been undertaken on lower lying estate landscapes, the colonisation of uplands, and the changing relationships between humans, animals and plants entailed in this process, have received little attention.

Combining archaeological science, ecological and archival approaches, this project will analyse the effects of cultural and ecological disruptions associated with lowland hill colonisation in the post-medieval period and explore any contemporary shifts in human-environmental relationships. This will be achieved through the pursuit of a number of complementary research strands, incorporating techniques from the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. Methods used could include the application of archaeoentomology, zooarchaeology, palynology and/or geochemistry to abandoned sites, or ecological modelling and GIS approaches. These methods will allow the extent of human infringement into marginal environments to be assessed and help characterise the nature of human activities. Approaches from anthropology, history and folklore studies would also be welcome avenues of research in a project that seeks not only to describe and characterise physical change but also to explore how the physical was implicated in contemporary cultural concepts like ‘wilderness’, ‘landscape’ and ‘nature’. 

More project details are available here:

How to apply: 

Funding Notes

"QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and Overseas candidates. Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend/research & training support grant only.

Before applying please check full funding and eligibility information:"
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