Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies, Aberdeen

Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies, Aberdeen

The Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Aberdeen is the first of its kind in the world. It is a unique interdisciplinary centre of excellence which offers taught masters and doctoral programmes of the highest quality in the history, literature and culture of Ireland and Scotland, and carries out research across these disciplines.

Research partnerships and projects

Humanity Manse, the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies - Photo © University of AberdeenThe Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies (RIISS) exists to promote comparative and interdisciplinary research and graduate training on the history, literatures and languages and cultures of the two countries.

Around eighty scholars at Aberdeen across the disciplines of history, language, literature, philosophy, politics, sociology, geography, economics, law and divinity are affiliated to the RIISS. This is believed to the largest concentration of Scottish and Irish expertise in any university in Europe. Through the Irish Scottish Academic Initiative, the RIISS also enjoys close relations with leading researchers at Trinity College, Dublin, Queen's University Belfast, University of Strathclyde and the University of Edinburgh.

Formally inaugurated by Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, on St Andrew's Day 1999, the RIISS presents a full programme of seminars, conferences and symposia, and offers Masters and Doctoral programmes in Irish and Scottish Studies in its academic and administrative home, Humanity Manse. Humanity Manse is an elegant eighteenth-century town house in the heart of Old Aberdeen, which contains seminar rooms and accommodation for graduate students and research fellows working on Irish and Scottish projects.

In 2001, the Institute incorporated the UK Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies with its partner institutions, Trinity College, Dublin and Queen's Belfast. The partnership was been awarded nearly £890,000 to establish the unit, the first AHRB research centre to be created in Scotland. It has allowed the development of fourteen research projects, recruitment of six research fellows and substantial enhancement of the graduate training and events programme. The series of projects to be associated with the Centre consist of key themes in Irish-Scottish Studies, some of which are within a single discipline but normally have a comparative framework, and others where there is an attempt at a genuinely interdisciplinary approach. The projects are structured under three broad headings: The Diaspora Programme, The Languages of Scotland and Ireland Programme, and The Literatures of Ireland and Scotland Programme. Over the next few years the RIISS also intends to develop expertise in relevant areas of Social Science.

The MLitt degree programme

"We have the opportunity to make sure that, in future, relations between Scotland and Ireland are remembered as something which helped us create a new trade in ideas and expertise among our people."
Jim Wallace MSP, Deputy First Minister, Scottish Executive

The Irish-Scottish Masters Programme, to be run annually during both half-sessions, is made up of three parts. Students are required to take courses from both Part 1 (Irish and Scottish Studies) and Part 2 (Interdisciplinary Training Component) and then proceed, if eligible, to the dissertation, which constitutes Part 3. Eligible students can transfer to the PhD programmes in participating departments upon successful completion of the Masters programme.

The courses are offered with the full cooperation and teaching contribution of staff from the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy and the School of Language and Literature. Its aims and objectives are:
» To create an active, dynamic, interdisciplinary graduate programme in Irish and Scottish Studies which attracts to RIISS and the AHRB Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies first-class students, from within and beyond the European Union.
» To develop a carefully regulated, interdisciplinary programme which will give graduate students a rigorous, yet flexible, research training in Irish and Scottish history, literature, language and culture.
» To offer a programme which addressed the specific research interests of individual students while, at the same time, educating them about resources outside their proposed area of interest, thus helping them to conceptualise their scholarship and set it in a wider historical, literary, linguistic or ethnological framework.

The context

It is a truism that Ireland and Scotland share much history in common. From earliest times the two countries united by the sea formed a single cultural, religious, linguistic and economic zone. Indeed so well-developed and enduring was the Irish-Scottish political and religious connection that Scotland's hero-king, Robert the Bruce, could regard himself as belonging to the same nation as the Irish and this sense of ethnic kindred was still very much alive in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The warmth of that relationship was unlikely to survive the Reformation as Presbyterianism soon established supreme hegemony in Scotland while the Irish for the most part remained defiantly Roman Catholic. Nevertheless in modern times each country has still had a profound impact on the other. In the seventeenth century as many as 100,000 Protestant Scots settled in Ulster. The political and religious effects of that remarkable migration have left a deep mark on Irish history to the present day. Then in the 19th century, as part of the enormous global diaspora of the Irish, many thousands moved to Scotland in the search for employment. Their labour helped Scottish industrialisation to take root rapidly. They also became Scotland's single largest group of immigrants in the modern period with marked effects on the social, religious and cultural life of many areas, especially in the Western Lowlands.

Given this range of historic interconnections it is at first surprising that it is only in the last two decades that the serious comparative study of Ireland and Scotland has become established within the universities. The two countries may have had an intimate and enduring set of relationships over two millennia and more but they have been virtually ignored by scholars in the 19th and for much of the 20th centuries. But times are changing again. Academics in the 1970s and 1980s became more interested in comparative studies and realised the fruitful potential for investigation of two societies within the British Isles, so close to one another but yet so different. The basic driving force in the renaissance of the serious study of Ireland and Scotland has been the new political dynamic within the British Isles. Devolution in Scotland has unleashed a remarkable interest in the nation's history and culture. One effect has been to prompt an interest in the historic links with Ireland. More generally, as the process of devolution becomes established throughout the UK and the peace process continues, Ireland is discovering once again the diversity of relationships with her neighbouring island.

© University of Aberdeen
The University of Aberdeen was founded in 1495 and is one of the four ancient Scottish universities. It is governed by a series of Acts of Parliament, Universities (Scotland) Acts 1858 -1966. The mission of the University of Aberdeen is to be excellent in delivering learning and teaching, undertaking research and commercialisation, and in promoting research and scholarship.

Do you want to know more?

» Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies, University of Aberdeen
The University of Aberdeen's Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies is the first of its kind in the world for graduate study and research on the history, language, literature and culture of Ireland and Scotland.

Celtic Countries is the online magazine for people who enjoy the Celtic nations, their natural splendour, culture, and lifestyles.

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Sign up for our monthy Celtic Countries Magazine email newsletter for the latest stories from our website.