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THE ARCHAEOLOGY, HISTORY, AND HERITAGE OF SCOTLAND’S SEAWEED INDUSTRY, 17TH–20TH CENTURIES

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, May 13, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The industrial exploitation of seaweed resources was part of life in Scotland for much of the post-medieval period. This important industry connected many rural parts of Scotland with fast-changing economic, political, and scientific developments at a global scale. One example of this would be the boom in the kelp industry in the late 18th and early 19th century. The production of potash, an important industrial chemical, from seaweed increased dramatically as the Napoleonic Wars cut of traditional sources of this material – the resulting collapse after the conclusion of these wars significantly contributed to clearance in many areas. Evidence of this activity can be seen around Scotland’s coasts; despite this, it remains little studied. The first archaeological account of this industry was published as recently as 2019. This small case study highlighted the large gap in knowledge about this aspect of post-medieval life in Scotland and showed the potential for studies in this area to have far-reaching implications for our understanding of social and cultural change in Scotland and internationally. At a time when the industrial exploitation of seaweed may soon be a growing sector in the Western Isles, this is an important opportunity to reflect on the impact of this industry in the past.

This research project will transform our understanding of the role of industrial seaweed exploitation in early modern Scotland, by focusing on its technology and social impact, and the human experience of those involved. Drawing on archaeological and documentary sources, it will also consider its historical context and examine, for the first time, the rich seam of evidence in Gaelic and Scots about the commercial exploitation of seaweed and its impact on communities across Scotland. In many communities, there are strong memories of kelping, and it is regarded as a valuable and significant element of their way of life. The PhD will affirm this importance and value at a national level, giving it parity of esteem with other elements of Scottish history. Through knowledge exchange it will aim to improve local and national understandings of seaweed extraction. The seaweed industry was one way in which post-medieval Scotland interacted with a global economic system, which included colonialism, empire, and slavery, and this will also be an opportunity to highland the part the seaweed industry played in these global historical narratives.

The research will draw on a number of case studies from different periods and places to demonstrate the range and diversity of industrial exploitation of seaweed from the 17th to the 20th centuries, and the rich remains these engagements have left in the historic environment. The research will operate at a range of scales, integrating national, regional and local analysis. At the broadest scale, the project will assess existing information about seaweed exploitation across Scotland, contextualising the case studies and exploring the potential for further research.

The case studies, which will be identified by the student, will consider the impact of seaweed extraction on the social and cultural lives of the affected communities in specific areas. Following recent innovations in archaeological landscape theory, the exploitation of seaweed will be explored in the context of rhythms of local landscapes and routine practices – just one element of a mosaic of human activity which includes biographies of places and people and the relations between human and non-human actors in the landscape.

The archaeological remains of the seaweed industry are extremely poorly understood. In some areas there are hundreds of kelping sites along several kilometres of coast, and yet there are less than 150 sites in the National Record of the Historic Environment for the whole of Scotland. Many of these sites are under severe threat from coastal erosion, and are in some of Scotland’s most vulnerable landscapes. It is likely many have already been lost without every being recorded. This PhD will document the character and diversity of archaeological sites related to the exploitation of seaweed. This has the potential to transform how these sites are recorded, designated, and ultimately managed in future – particularly important as we face the challenges of climate change.

Funding Notes

Tuition fees and annual stipend paid. Stipend for 2020/21 is £15,285 plus an additional annual CDP stipend of £600.

Funding body: Collaborative Doctoral Partnership funding held jointly by Historic Environment Scotland and the University of Glasgow.
Deadline for applications: Wednesday 13 May 2020
Interviews: will be held at HES in Edinburgh on Tuesday 2 June 2020
Start date for PhD: 1 October 2020

By the terms of the AHRC funding, only UK or EU applicants are eligible. You will also need to be accepted onto the relevant PhD programme via University of Glasgow Admissions.

How good is research at University of Glasgow in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?
Archaeology

FTE Category A staff submitted: 9.55

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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