Islands – past

In this first instalment of our ‘Islands – past, present and future’ series, we are looking backwards to explore the exciting and complex history of the Scottish Islands.

Reflecting on our histories is vital to understanding identity, community, culture, environment, and power. 

In this first instalment of our tri-part ‘Islands – past, present and future’ series, we are looking backwards to explore the exciting and complex past of the Scottish Islands. We will be revisiting the places and people whose stories have contributed to our conceptualisation of and relationship with the Isle of Skye and Scotland’s islands more widely. 

On Saturday 29 April, learn all about the latest research looking into island history through several different lenses – from personal recollection allied to traditional sources, poetry and demography to language, archaeology, and ornithology:  

  • Mark the 250th anniversary of Johnson and Boswell’s journey  
  • Learn about the seaways that connected people of the western islands   
  • Discuss how island, human, and bird populations have changed  
  • Discover Scotland’s Jurassic Park  

Join the RSE for this day of exploration, questioning and reflection through at the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.


09:30 – 09:40 Welcome

09:45 – 10:20 Keynote 1 – Professor Chris Whatley FRSE, Dundee OBE, FRSE, University of Dundee – Pabay, Skye: a?reflective odyssey through a small island’s past

10:25 – 11:00 Keynote 2 – Professor Uisdean Cheape FRSE, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, UHI –  A’ mhuinntir do rinn an t-seirbhis uile – ‘The folk who did all the business’. Revisiting the Past in the Islands

11:00 – 11:15 Break – teas and coffees? 

11:20 – 11:30 Speed talk – Eòghann MacLeòid, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig – Caith beatha:
material culture, identity and island history

11:30 – 11:40 Speed talk – Ceit Langhorne, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig – Sheaves and spears:
configuring accounts of Fingalian- Lochlannach battles in Islay and Tiree

11:45 – 12:20 Keynote 3 – Professor Michael Anderson FRSE, University of Edinburgh – Demographic changes – how island populations have changed

12:20– 13:20 Lunch

13:25 – 14:00 Keynote 4 – Dr Dòmhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, UHI – Johnson, Boswell, and the Isle of Skye: 250 years on

14:05 – 14:15 Speed talk – Dr Gòrdan Camshron, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig – Treasure Islands?: Gaelic language and culture as societal assets

14:15 – 14:35 Speed talk – Catherine MacPhee, Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre – archives; community, identity and place

14:35 – 14:50 Break

14:50 – 15:25 Keynote 5 – Bob McMillan, Skye Birds – The birds of Skye – some historical changes, trends, and challenges

15:30 – 16:05 Keynote 6 – Dr Alison Cathcart, Stirling University – ‘The scattered isles in the polar ocean?’ Scotland and the isles in the early modern period

16:05 – 16:15 Break? 

16:15 – 16:50 Keynote 7 – Professor Steve Brusatte, Edinburgh – Scotland’s Jurassic Park: dinosaurs, pterodactyls, and other fossils from the Hebrides?

16:50 – 17:00 Plenary


A person wearing glasses and smiling at the camera
Dr Ali Cathcart


Dr Ali Cathcart

Associate Professor in Early Modern Scottish History, University of Stirling

Dr Cathcart’s work focuses on communities that exist at the interface of land and sea, in regions often regarded as ‘peripheral’ to mainstream political, social, and economic development during the early modern period. She has recently completed a monograph on plantation across the North Channel region, and is now focused on insular communities within the archipelago with a particular focus on maritime matters and customary legal practices, with a focus on who owns what in the inter-tidal region.

A man wearing a hat and glasses
Bob McMillan


Bob McMillan

Ornithologist, Skye Birds

Bob was educated at the University of Dundee.  He was a career police officer serving in Perth and Kinross Constabulary and Tayside Police, retiring in 1999 as Deputy Chief Constable, when he received the Queens Police Medal.  He worked for UK Government in an advisory role for several years before retiring to Skye in 2004.  With a lifetime interest in birds, Bob has served in various capacities with the Scottish Raptor Study Groups, Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, and British Trust for Ornithology.  He has published and contributed to several ornithological papers, and the annual Highland Bird Report.  In 2005 he published Skye Birds, now in its 3rd edition.  He also has a website which provides information and sightings for Skye and Lochalsh, parts of Lochaber and the Small Isles.

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Professor Christopher Whatley


Professor Christopher Whatley OBE, FRSE

Emeritus Professor, Scottish History, University of Dundee

Christopher Whatley has written on a wide range of Scottish historical topics. These include book-length histories of the salt industry and Scotland’s industrial revolution, as well as challenging studies of Scottish society during this period. He is best known for his award-winning book and papers on the Union of 1707, and for his study of the legacy of the national poet Robert Burns. His most recent book is his acclaimed Pabay: An Island Odyssey (Birlinn, 2019), which is in part a personal account (but also a serious history) of a small island where he spent much of his boyhood.

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Dr Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart


Dr Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart

Senior Lecturer, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, UHI

Dr Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart is a Senior Lecturer at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI, and Course Leader for the MSc Cultar Dùthchasach agus Eachdraidh na Gàidhealtachd (Material Culture and Gàidhealtachd History). Dr Stiùbhart teaches undergraduate courses in Gaelic popular culture, customs and beliefs, and in research skills. His interdisciplinary work draws upon the history, literature, material culture, ethnology, and popular culture of the Gàidhealtachd from the seventeenth century onwards, focusing upon indigenous knowledge and cultural brokers. At present he is researching the life of Martin Martin (c. 1665–1718), and the folklore collecting projects of John Francis Campbell (1821–85).

Professor Michael Anderson, FRSE


Professor Michael Anderson, FRSE

Professor Emeritus of Economic History, University of Edinburgh

Professor Michal Anderson is Emeritus Professor of Economic History at the University of Edinburgh. His teaching, research and publication have ranged across the social, economic and demographic histories of families, households and their societies, from the eighteenth century to the present day. Within a broad Western European context, he has particularly focused on the diversity of people’s behaviour in different parts of Scotland, much of this summarised in his 2018 book Scotland’s Populations from the 1850s to Today. Recently he has been using his long experience with census enumerators” books to explore the changing demographic structure of ‘crofters’ from 1851 to 1881.

Professor Steve Brusatte


Professor Steve Brusatte

Professor of Palaeontology and Evolution, University of Edinburgh

Steve Brusatte, PhD, is an American paleontologist who teaches at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. He is a specialist on the anatomy, genealogy, and evolution of dinosaurs, and for a decade has led fieldwork expeditions to Skye and other Hebridean islands to search for Jurassic-aged fossils. He is the author of the international bestseller The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs and The Rise and Reign of the Mammals, and was the palaeontology consultant for Jurassic World: Dominion. He has named more than 20 new species, including the tyrannosaur “Pinocchio rex” (Qianzhousaurus), the raptor Zhenyuanlong, and the Skye pterosaur (pterodactyl) Dearc.

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Professor Ùisdean Cheape


Professor Ùisdean Cheape

MSc Senior Lecturer, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, UHI

In partnership with
  • University of Highlands and Islands logo
  • HIE logo
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Saturday April 29th, 2023 09:30-17:00


Sabhal Mòr Ostaig




Dr Dòmhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart
Bob McMillan
Professor Steve Brusatte