Happy tenth birthday Shetland Wool Week

To mark Shetland Wool Week reaching its tenth birthday, and to celebrate the continued partnership of Shetland College UHI in this super event, we invited alumni and staff taking part to share some of their fun wool facts and favourite yarns.

Shetland College UHI is the most northern partner of the University of the Highlands and Islands and prides itself on being the UK’s most northern textile course.

Where better to start than with Faye Hackers, her energy and passion for the craft and the array of creative opportunities it provides is contagious. She is the programme leader at the university’s Contemporary Textiles degree and one of the committee members of this year’s internationally recognised wool week held annually on Shetland. The university’s courses equip students with the technical skills and the practical knowledge to produce innovative textiles, and the business skills to market them globally.

  • Faye Hackers

Wooly Info: Before working at the University, I was a knitwear designer predominantly based in Shanghai working for UK brands. You can still find my designs in a few UK high street stores today!

Some of my work (12 scarves) is currently on show at the Museum and Archives over Shetland wool week (see photo) and is up for Charity Auction, so please head along and bid to raise money for some great causes!

Fav Yarn: I can’t pick only one…Shetland’s Jamieson and Smith 2ply heritage undyed, all the beautiful natural colours of Shetland- cosy and weather resistant (a must in Shetland!). But, my overall favourite yarns to knit with are silks or merinos on a 8 or 10 gauge Vbed, the perfect quality of knit in my eye; great drape, not too fine, not too thick- perfect!

  • Roisin Alexandra McAtamney
    Textile Technician at the textile facilitation unit, Shetland College UHI and owner of R.A.M Knitwear. Teaching a workshop at Shetland Wool Week 2019

Wooly Info: You can turn almost any fibre into a yarn, then garment. During my studies on the Design for Textiles BA Hons at Heriot Watt university, our knitwear technician showed us a lovely knitted pullover. His wife had saved the fur from grooming their Alsatian to make it! Needless to say, it was kept wrapped up tight as the smell was rather pungent!  

Fav yarn or textile: Did you know that there is a woman in Sardinia who dives underwater to collect fibers from an endangered clam and spins it into a yarn known as byssus, or sea silk, it’s one of the rarest and most coveted materials in the world! The secrets of this technique have been in her family for 24 generations and she is the last with this knowledge!

  •         Helen Whitham
    Textile Technician at the textile facilitation unit, Shetland College UHI. Teaching the ‘machine knit a cushion Cover’ class at Shetland Wool Week 2019.

Wooly Info: Born and bred in Shetland I have had a keen interest in knitting my whole life. I first learned to knit at primary school, studied textile design and specialised in knitting at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design at the University of Dundee. I moved home to work for a local knitwear designer before taking up a job at Shetland College UHI where I now work as a technician and programmer on Shima Seiki knitting machines.

Fav yarn or textile: I love experimenting with hand tooled techniques on V-Bed and Domestic knitting machines, especially creating my own hand tooled lace patterns. I also enjoy playing with colour; the huge number of shades of yarn that Jamieson’s of Shetland spin allow countless options for combining and blending colours.

  •          Dr Simon Clarke
    Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, Head of Creative and Cultural Industries Shetland College UHI

Wooly Info: In 1921 well preserved remains of a young woman were found from the Danish Bronze Age at Egtved, in South Jutland. The body and grave goods lay in an oak log coffin in waterlogged conditions that had allowed woven woollen textiles to survive. Danish society was scandalised by the outfit which included a string miniskirt and a theory that she was a southern European courtesan was quickly popularised without any real evidential basis. However, in 2015 isotope analysis of the woman’s bones and hair and of the wool in her textiles suggest that she was indeed an immigrant, probably from the Black Forest region of Germany. The honour of Danish womanhood preserved!

Egtved Girl’s grave, Denmark, 1370 BC.
Credit: The National Museum of Denmark

  • Niela Nell Kalra
    University of the Highlands and Islands 2007 graduate, Contemporary Art and Textiles Degree Distinction and self employed knitwear designer.

Wooly Info: Despite having a successful little knitwear business, Nielanell, I can hardly even knit! My favourite textile activity is spinning and dyeing wool.

Image credit: Byre Cape by Nielanell, photographer Austin Taylor Photography

Fav yarn or textile: Nothing in the world compares to a beautiful fine Shetland fleece to prepare and spin.

  •  Elaine Nicolson
    University of the Highlands and Islands 2017 graduate, BA Contemporary Textiles. Self employed knit wear designer.

Wooly Info: This is one of my favourite textiles which was part of my degree work. This design was inspired from a hand knit heritage piece. It was knitted on a 12 gauge machine in white merino wool and silk in the colours of beach pebbles.

Fav yarn or textile: Wool, blended with silk for a great fibre combination.

  • Edina Szeles
    Lecturer of Contemporary Textiles, Art and Woven Structures at Shetland College UHI, Programme Leader of the portfolio course. In her third year of teaching a weaving workshop during Shetland Wool Week

Wooly Info: My first wool experience was at 16. I had to weave a rug in the art high school I studied in Budapest, Hungary. My first wool experience on Shetland was in 2012, using Jamieson & Smith heritage yarns to create woven fabrics for the GlobalYell weave studio. I worked in the textile industry for over 10 years, designing both for printed and woven textiles before moving into teaching art in 2006. I also maintain an independent art practice creating contemporary art and design pieces.

Fav yarn or textile: Love all!  I enjoy finding different ways to use them, primarily for weaving but also for hand-dying, spinning, knitting, felting and embroidery. In recent years I have been working mainly with wool – what else if you live in Shetland!  

Share your favourites.  Leave a comment!

Watch out next for… Loch Ness Knit, 17- 20 October

 

Celebrating 100 years of the Scottish Land Settlement Act

Are you familiar with the 1919 Scottish Land Settlement Act?

If your answer is no, you are not alone. Despite its wide-reaching significance, it is felt to be neither as well-known nor as celebrated as other key pieces of land legislation, such as the 1886 Crofters’ Act and the 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act.

Is this about to change?

Dr Iain Robertson, Reader at the University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for History, is working with colleagues at the Centre for Scotland’s Land Futures and the Historical Geography Research Group to make sure the Act’s existence and current relevance is recognised as it becomes a centenarian.

Here, Iain highlights two of over 400 events of land disturbances that took place in the Highlands and Islands after November 1918 which were to drive the British Government into passing the 1919 Land Settlement Act one hundred years ago.

A celebratory 1919 Land Settlement (Scotland) Act conference will take place between the 26 and 28 September 2019 at Kinloch on the Isle of Lewis.

Cnoc a phoileasmain [i]

Just a short ferry ride from the Isle of Skye is the beautiful small island of Raasay.

When the Raasay raiders were due to be arrested they were always forewarned that the police were on their way. So they would “leave their houses and they went on the hills … There was an uncle of mine … and one of the policeman spotted him and he made after him and … he would say to the police “you needn’t come further you’ll never catch me and even if you did I wouldn’t go on that boat … I would put my foot through it” he says “and sink the Boat. “You would be drowned yourself” says the policeman “Not at all” he says “I was in the Navy I would swim the Channel.”

From that day onwards the hill where the raiders hid was known as a
cnoc a phoileasmain (‘the hillock of the policeman’).

Resettling on North Uist

In March 1920 crofters on North Uist wrote to the Scottish Office threatening to seize land at Balranald, now a stunning Hebridean nature reserve.

They claimed that the land: “adjoins the township and formerly belonged to it. We are convinced that we are acting right when we take possession of the land from which our ancestors were wrongfully driven.”

Since the 1880s successive governments had attempted to solve ‘the Highland land problem’ through a combination of the carrot and stick: gunboats, marines and legislation. This had not worked. Whatever they tried, from the Crofters Act onwards, no government was able to address land hunger amongst the landless.

In 1911, however, the Government passed the Small Landholders Act. For the first time the Board of Agriculture had the ability to compel the creation of smallholding schemes on private estates. Unfortunately, this piece of legislation was flawed and there was not enough money to keep up with the demand for land. The disturbances continued until the intervention of international conflict, the First World War.

War changed much. Both in the Highlands and Islands and beyond. Sympathy for the sacrifices made by Highland families was translated into sympathy for the plight of those who returned home to exactly the same appalling conditions they had left to serve. They were instead expecting to return to a ‘land fit for heroes’.

But war changes people. Ex-soldiers and sailors returned home “no longer content to put up with what our forefathers did.” A new wave of land disturbances erupted almost immediately after November 1918, with the government feeling compelled to respond. The 1919 Land Settlement Act was born – the most important piece of land legislation since 1886.

tempsnip

More money was found and the process of land settlement simplified. Hundreds of new crofts were created, with long-abandoned townships brought back to life and others revived. The Act transformed the Highlands and Islands landscape. In giving folks the opportunity to remain on the land that would have been otherwise impossible, the Act created the conditions out of which the land buyout movement would emerge some eighty years later.

This is the legacy of the Land Settlement Act and why we must celebrate it.

[i] Full details of the Raasay and Balranald land raids can be found in Iain JM Robertson, Landscapes of Protest in the Scottish Highlands After 1914: The later Highland land wars. Routledge, 2016.

Key steps to navigating your Clearing journey

Your exam results have at last arrived. You have your results. What now?

Do I need to use the clearing system?

The clearing system is your route to find a suitable course at university or college if you;

  • don’t already have a place or an offer that you want to accept
  • didn’t meet the conditions of your offer
  • did better than anticipated
  • no longer wish to accept an existing offer
  • are applying after the 30 June

Clearing is not necessary if you have used the UCAS application system to apply before the 30 June; have been made an active offer from a university and have met the conditions made in the offer and you wish to accept it. Do remember to check the acceptance process to make sure that your place is secured.

Want more information? Speak to an adviser at the University of the Highlands and Islands on 01463 279190 or visit our website

UCAS also offer a clearing advice line to candidates: 0371 368 0468 (UK callers) or +44 330 333 0230 (if you are calling from outside the UK).

How do I find out which courses have places available?

Whether you know exactly what you’d like to do or you’re still unsure, there is help available to support you to find the right course.

Do some research. Find courses that interest you.

You can;

  • use the UCAS search tool to find live vacancies
  • view our courses at the University of the Highland and Islands
  • talk to universities and colleges directly to find out if they have places and if they will make you an offer
  • find out about open days. Come and see us
  • ask for help and information about which of our courses are available and what qualifications are needed for entry. Contact our clearing information line on 01463 279190 or visit our website
  • contact the Skills Development Scotland’s exam helpline which offers advice on careers and university and college vacancies. The helpline is open from 8am–8pm on 9 and 10 August and 9am–5pm until 17 August. Call 0808 100 8000.
  • read our step by step guide

Clearing the path to the career you want

The University of the Highland and Islands is a university of today for the world of tomorrow. The future world of work will require us to be constantly learning, so whatever your stage of life or current qualifications, our campuses across the Highlands and Islands offer opportunities to develop your skills.

Speak to our adviser’s about studying at the University of the Highlands and Islands. Our distinctive partnership comprises of thirteen independent colleges and research institutions.

We combine academic excellence, vocational training and industry expertise to arm you with the skills employers are looking for. We pride ourselves on our caring and supportive culture to guide you on your unique learning journey.

Our university course information team is here to help you enter your world of tomorrow at one of our local campuses and centres.

13 partners

6 tips to make your festival experience fantastic!

With only a couple of days to go until the much awaited 16th Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, we asked our festival goers (staff and students) at the University of the Highlands and Islands to share their advice and tips.

This fantastic family friendly festival event brings together music lovers young and old. It runs this year Thursday 1 August to Saturday 3 August, on Belladrum Estate, by Beauly in the beautiful Scottish Highlands.

So, whether you are playing at it, attending or working at the festival for the first or umpteenth time…how do you make sure it is an unforgettable, safe and an enjoyable experience?

    1. Plan to be spontaneous – it’s great to anticipate and plan what bands you are going to see – but equally the festival is a great forum to widen your musical horizons, discover new acts you may never have heard of before and for free.  For example at the recent Hebcelt festival I was thrilled to discover and dance to Awkward Family Portraits!
      Anna-Wendy Stevenson, Programme Leader, BA Applied Music
    2. Going camping? Here is my five must takes!
      1) a small torch for finding your tent at night, even though there is festival lighting it’s not always easy in a sea of tents – make sure you can recognise your tent clearly too.
      2) take a refillable water bottle/container – there’s free water on tap.
      3) dry shampoo – a saviour for anyone with longer hair.
      4) extra layers – whilst it may be warm during the day the temperature can be really chilly at night.
      5)
      a bag to take all your recycling home…keep our beautiful Bella clean.
      Jessica Taylor, Digital Marketing Officer and Proud Ness Chair 
    3. Manual handlingIf you’re performing and playing a large instrument, invest in a good barrow with a fat tyre and some bungee cords as you’ll probably have to lug it four miles from the car park to the stage.
      If you’re offered a performers/production car park pass, take it as you can get in closer to drop off, as these car parks are usually right behind the stages. Or, if all else fails, you just need to make sure you have some fit and healthy friends to take turns.
      Alison Lochhead, Communications Manager and parent roadie
    4. Keeping charged – think about getting an external phone battery so that you can re-fuel your device without having to plug it in. USB battery chargers are easy to find and affordable. It’s useful in case you lose your pals in the crowd, plus we all love to capture photos, videos and share the best bits! @ThinkUHI
      Katie Masheter, Curriculum Development Employer Engagement Officer
    5. Hearing care – remember to bring ear protection for young children. There are many loud noises that can damage the little people’s hearing. Ear plugs for sleeping could be a winner too!
      DJ MacIntyre, Gaelic officer and bagpipe player
       
    6. Personal care – be sure to pack a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, with a bottle of water ready. Wet wipes are perfect for personal hygiene in case the ques to showers are far too long!  Keep fresh, and keep clean! 😊
      Take some healthy snacks to keep your energy levels up – pack fruits like bananas, and snacks like nuts that will ensure you are dancing all day and night long without running out of energy.
      Bumbags for safety – Keep your cash, phones and cards safe by using a one. By keeping your belongings close to you it reduces the chance of dropping or theft.
      Emma Robson, HISA Activities and Events Regional Co-ordinator

Check out the official website to for all the latest festival details and specific FAQs.official_bella_n

The University of the Highlands and Islands will be attending the Tartan Heart Belladrum festival 

Plan your personal programme!
Join our Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths students and staff in the Science Tent and take part in some fantastic scientific experiments. From making a fruit piano to having a go on a smoothie bike there is plenty to get involved in!

Do you know your axon from your elbow? If so, come and join in with our Science pub quiz on Saturday from 7pm to 8pm. Hosted by researchers from the University of the Highlands and Islands, with topics ranging from high school science to the latest news. There will also be a special children’s round so everyone can join in! Come and test your science skills with a prize for the winning team!

Why not attend a Women in Technology session featuring Dr Antonia Pritchard
[read her recent blog on sun care]AP

Listen to our current and past students perform at various stages over the three days.

Not sure what university life is like? Ask our students what their learning journey at the university. Representatives from the Highland and Islands Students’ Association will be at the event.

Future Me, our careers and employability team have secured some fantastic work experience placements. Our students will work with Belladrum’s production team – helping to make the magic happen. Roles include event project management, production, press office and artist liaison.   Watch out for their personal stories on social media @ThinkUHI as they get back stage, meet the artists, connect with like-minded people and have an experience that won’t be forgotten

It could be you performing or working at an event next year?
Set your course for the future. Visit our website to explore our courses all across the Highlands and Islands. Our courses take you from where you are today, to where you want to be in the future.

Find out more about future work experience opportunities or how to advertise your own vacancy.

#ThinkUHI #bellafamily #Bella2019

 

Melanoma: more than a touch of sun

With the summer season approaching, Dr Antonia Pritchard and Dr Sharon Hutchison from our School of Health Social Care and Life Sciences provide insights into melanoma, protecting yourself in the sun and the research they are undertaking at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Did you know:

• Melanoma is Scotland’s sixth most common cancer?
• Not all melanoma is caused by exposure to the sun/ultraviolet radiation?
• Your immune system is capable of killing cancer cells?

awhitephoto_UHI case study_Antonia Pritchard-106
Dr Antonia Pritchard

As the holiday season approaches, it is a timely opportunity for us to introduce ourselves to our new Northern Scottish community and home. We have recently set up a melanoma research group at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness, thanks to funding support from Highland and Island Enterprise.

So – what is melanoma?

It is a type of cancer that arises from the melanocyte cell which produces pigment (colour) in your body.

The type of melanoma you have likely heard most about appears on the skin. It is often identified by changes to the skin such as the appearance of a new mole or a transformation in an existing mole that progressively changes in shape, size and/or colour. This type of melanoma occurs after exposure of skin to too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

CaptureIn the UK, almost 9 in 10 cases of melanoma could be prevented by using high factor sunscreen, limiting the time you are exposed to ultraviolet radiation, including sunbeds, and covering up your skin when in the sun. An important thing to remember during your summer holiday! If you see any changes on your skin or your moles, please visit your GP who will examine it. This is a quick and easy thing to do and the earlier a melanoma is detected, the more likely it will be cured, so it is good to be cautious.

But – did you know that melanoma does not only appear on the skin?

Melanoma can develop in the eye (known as uveal melanoma), under the fingernails or on the palms of hands/soles of feet (known as acral melanoma) or from an internal mucosal surface, such as gums, nose or rectum (known as mucosal melanoma). These rare types of melanoma are not usually influenced by ultraviolet radiation in the same way as skin melanoma and are often detected at a more advanced stage due to their locations.

Unfortunately, once melanoma has spread, it is one of the hardest cancers to cure.
That is what we are researching to change.

metastatic melanomaThe immune system is capable of specifically recognising cancer cells as being ‘foreign’ to the body, in a way that is similar to how it recognises viruses and bacteria as not belonging there. But, once a cancer has developed, it has managed to evade the immune defences. In our lab we are trying to find ways to re-stimulate the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells. Ultimately, we want to be able to identify new immune targets for treatment of melanoma.

We are excited to be able to bring our work to the university and the local community and to be part of the teams continuing to put the Highlands on the map as a place to perform life changing medical research.

Can you help with our research? Absolutely! If you have been diagnosed with any type of melanoma at any time, we have a project you are eligible to join, so please get in touch (melanoma.research@uhi.ac.uk). You can also spread the word that we are researching melanoma at the university and that lots of different types of medical research is happening in Inverness – we love to talk about our work!

Sharon_Lab
Dr Sharon Hutchison

Want more information? We recommend the melanoma patient support network Melanoma UK (www.melanomauk.org.uk) and the NHS information pages contain a lot of important material about all types of melanoma.

Finally, the university’s Institute of Health Research and Innovation has a dedicated Twitter account to keep everyone up-to-date on all our new and exciting medical health research (@IoHRI_UHI).

Dr Antonia Pritchard and Dr Sharon Hutchison
University of the Highlands and Islands

http://www.uhi.ac.uk/en/research-enterprise/res-themes/school-of-health-social-care-and-life-sciences

 

Why celebrate International Women’s Day?

Observed annually every 8th March, International Women’s Day is held as a worldwide day of celebration, protest and, in some countries, as a national holiday.  Last year saw the first University of the Highlands and Islands wide event to mark International Women’s Day.  The event was fully booked within 24 hours.

Women's Day, UHI
Alex Walker and Deborah Halliday

Why was there was such an appetite for the event? To quote the International Women’s campaign “we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence.”  This year’s International Women’s Day global theme is #BalanceforBetter. In a time where the spotlight is rightly being shone on the gender inequalities across society, the workplace and in education, International Women’s Day provides our university, like others, with the opportunity to highlight what we are doing to tackle gender inequalities in education for colleagues working in research, professional services and in learning and teaching.  International Women’s Day also provides us the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women across the university.

It’s been a busy year since International Women’s Day 2018 with a ripple of change that has come from the event taking place. A ripple that we hope will continue to gain momentum! Our keynote speaker was Dr Sandra Cairncross, Assistant Principal for Widening Participation and Community at Edinburgh Napier University. Sandra explored why Women’s Networks are needed in further and higher education.

From those conversations, we have now established our own university Women’s IWD3Network and were fortunate to have international scholar and activist Professor Antonia Darder open the inaugural network meeting in July. The network meets quarterly to explore how we can better promote gender equality at the university, but also to hear from inspirational speakers and to take stock of the great work that is already being done to support equality across the university.

This includes initiatives such as the Athena SWAN Charter, which evolved from work between the Athena Project and the Scientific Women’s Academic Network, to advance the representation of women in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics. In 2015 the Charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law, and in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students. Dr Mary Doherty, Senior Lecturer and Head of Postgraduate Researcher Development, spoke at International Women’s Day 2018 around the work she led that resulted in the university successfully achieving  an Athena Swan Bronze Award in 2016.  Since Athena Swan Bronze Award 2018 the working group, which is chaired by Mary, has expanded to include professional services staff and is working towards both renewal of our accreditation and the submission of individual department awards.

Our first Athena Swan Bronze Award event also highlighted the need to have development opportunities in place to support women to enhance their leadership skills. Since the 2018 event, the university mentoring scheme has been further developed to offer a range of mentoring opportunities which can benefit our women colleagues and help them develop their research and leadership skills. The university has also funded ten colleagues who identify as women to take part in the Advance HE Aurora Leadership Programme.

8 and 9 Rhea_Kay
Rhea Kay, University of the Highlands and Islands Higher Education Student of the Year 2018

International Women’s Day also provides the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women!  The University of the Highlands and Islands is a dispersed university, with 13 academic partners located throughout the Highlands and Islands region. International Women’s Day provides a forum for the university to bring together colleagues across the network to celebrate and share the many great achievements of those who identify as women.

In 2018 we heard from women in senior roles, including Fiona McLean, Vice-Chair of Court for the University and Chair of the Equality and Diversity in Governance Working

UHI Learning and Teaching Conference, Inverness Campus, June 19t
Dr Sue Engstrand

Group, who opened the programme for the day. Fiona has been a great supporter in promoting equality at the university and is currently providing support to those on the Aurora leadership programme as a mentor and role model. This year, our International Women’s Day event was opened by Dr Sue Engstrand, Interim Dean of our faculty of science, health and engineering. Sue is a mentor, Auroran alumni and inspiration to those she mentors, supports and leads. It’s this commitment to empowering others and passion for equality that inspires change! We also heard two inspirational stories from our staff and student presenters and invited participants to celebrate someone who identifies as a woman that inspires them.

 

Should we only be celebrating the achievements of women on one day of the year? No, we should celebrating the achievements of women every day. Should we use 8th March to bring together some of those inspirational women together in celebration? Yes we should!

Alex Walker

Professional Recognition and Development Coordinator and International Women’s Day organiser for the University of the Highlands and Islands

 

Medieval Scotland on film – Outlaw King and the historical past

With the new Netflix film Outlaw King released this month, Dr Iain MacInnes of the University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for History considers the historical accuracy of Medieval Scotland on film.

NHC Dornoch History faculty stock photography, May 2015This month sees the release of the much-anticipated Netflix original film, Outlaw King. Directed by David Mackenzie and starring Hollywood’s Chris Pine, more usually found in blockbuster franchises like Star Trek and Wonder Woman, Outlaw King is one of a number of medieval historical dramas soon to make their way to our screens.

But, just as the trailer for the upcoming Mary Queen of Scots film prompted criticism across social media for apparent historical inaccuracy after it appeared to show Mary and Elizabeth meeting face to face (an event most historians agree never took place), so too will Outlaw King find itself under similar scrutiny.

Mackenzie has an ace up his sleeve, however. His narrative story of the life and career of King Robert I (Robert ‘the Bruce’) will be drawn in large part from a medieval source: John Barbour’s late-fourteenth-century epic poem, The Bruce. Surely this will enable Outlaw King to sidestep accusations of manipulating historical events for dramatic impact?

Just because a source is medieval, though, doesn’t mean it’s not problematic. Even medieval writers were less concerned about historical accuracy than they were with a good story which casts their protagonists in the best light. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart famously trumpeted its historical credentials as it too was based on a medieval source text, Blind Harry’s Wallace. But, writing 150 years after the events he described, Harry had a tendency to fill in the gaps of his historical knowledge with a good dollop of artistic license. The Wallace was also written with a very particular audience and political outlook in mind. Outlaw King faces similar issues with Barbour’s Bruce.NHC Dornoch History faculty stock photography, May 2015

The best-known and most-detailed account of the period, The Bruce, was written in the 1370s, several decades after the events it described. Barbour wrote that “truthfulness […] reveals things just as they were, [for] true events that are pleasing are entertaining to the hearer.” But, despite this noble sentiment, historical veracity was not his main concern. Barbour was writing a history of the events of the Wars of Independence knowing what his intended audience wanted to hear. Written at the court of the new Stewart dynasty (descendants of Robert I through his daughter), Barbour had an incentive to depict the king’s forebear in a particularly positive light.

More than this, Barbour was basing his work on a foundation of history writing that had been consciously developed by Robert I and his administration which stressed the importance of the king to Scotland’s independence. Without Bruce, so the story would go, there would be no Scotland. The king and the kingdom’s independence were indelibly linked.

Furthermore, war with England was depicted as a noble and heroic enterprise, an important message in a period when war had been in abeyance. Barbour’s Bruce, then, was very deliberately intended to speak to a late fourteenth-century audience and to inspire feelings of antagonism against the neighbours to the south. Given the recent post-Brexit reinvigoration of the Scottish Independence debate, you can’t help but wonder if – in some quarters, at least – Outlaw King will fulfil a similar role.

Row of Antique BooksThe Bruce is also, of course, a cracking good read. It focuses on those episodes that were of greatest interest to those at the time and which still capture the imagination today – skirmishes, sieges, the rags to riches story of the king and, ultimately, the Scottish victory at Bannockburn in 1314.

Such a narrative focuses on the king himself and on those who supported him. But it also carefully excises those who opposed Bruce and indeed the whole question of an alternative Scottish royal dynasty. That Robert I singularly failed to heal the rifts within the kingdom that he had himself created was borne out by the fact that civil war recommenced in Scotland barely three years after his death and war with England followed thereafter. But Barbour did not tell that story – nor was his audience particularly keen on hearing it.

The problem with The Bruce is that its tales of daring-do are often taken more popularly as “fact.” This is in part because Barbour’s narrative often appears authoritative: there is sometimes little evidence to contradict it and it is just so deceptively convincing.

When we think of “historical accuracy” as it is represented in Outlaw King, therefore, we have to remember that the source it is based on is itself not historically accurate. Whether modern or medieval, texts like The Bruce and Outlaw King are merely facsimiles of the past which speak as much to the period in which they were produced as they do to the specific period of the Wars of Independence. Such depictions are not “fake news,” but neither are they “truth.” And, as Indiana Jones famously stated, “if it’s truth Filmyou’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s Philosophy class is right down the hall.”

So, instead of getting too bogged down in discussions of historical accuracy, let’s instead welcome this latest foray into medieval Scottish history. Let’s look forward to the renewed engagement with medieval Scottish history and renewed debates about this fascinating period that such a high-profile depiction as Outlaw King will surely provoke.

Dr Iain MacInnes, Senior Lecturer, University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for History

To find out more about the Centre for History, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/en/research-enterprise/cultural/centre-for-history