What’s this?  Well, it’s the blog of a PhD student.  That’s me.  I’m doing this (very) part-time, and have had some time off in between starting this blog and updating this bio. 

I’m going to start researching the kirk in Orkney.  It’s a social history, so iIn other words, I’m doing a PhD in gossip.  I’m going to dig through the kirk’s Session records, read as many ancient history books about Orkney as I can lay my hands on, and generally get pretty clued up on our not-so-distant past.

When I originally wrote this blog my cat Fara was still a kitten.  Well, as with all cat owners, maybe she’ll always be a kitten, but she’s now a bit older.  I’ll try not to upload too many photos of cats on this blog, but I’m making no promises.

Fara

I am an Orcadian and come from a long line of Orcadian blood.  As such, I hold many ingrained belief systems, ideas, ideologies and biases about life outside Orkney, outsiders, and ferry loopers, the term given to people who move to live in Orkney.  How deep seated are they in the Orcadian psyche?  [When I originally wrote this text I thought the term ferry looper was modern, but the term has been in use for centuries. It was used in a South Ronaldsay alehouse in 1661 and must have been common parlance at that time (note to the researcher – when I first found this I didn’t write it down and then cursed a lot when I couldn’t remember where it came from. Then I found it again. Hurrah! Take note of EVERYTHING, as otherwise it’s going to come back and annoy you!).]

I’ve always been interested in the lives of the wider population rather than those in power or with money.  Orkney’s history books tend to skip over the period between the Norse and the 19th century, somehow believing that nothing happened in Orkney after the 12th century, so with a few exceptions little is written about how Orcadians lived.    Peter Anderson is the only historian – so far found – who concentrated on anything within this period in depth, and that only surrounding the Earls of Orkney.  This will include much useful information, but as his focus is on the lives within the Earldom it will give a skewed view of the lives of the rest of the population. 

Scottish and British history did not bypass Orkney’s shores, so just how did it impact upon day to day activities?  How did / did the kirk bend this history?  Did – in fact – anything happen, at all?   

Almost all the texts written about Orkney until the beginning of the 20th century were written by these so-called outsiders or ferry loopers, and as such they will carry a certain amount of their own bias; a sense of looking at the Orcadian population as simply objects of study and fascination.  I need to channel more Martin Martin (native of the Western Isles, looked upon them and wrote about them sympathetically), and less Sir Walter Scott (who looked down his nose at pretty much everything in Orkney).

Martin, of course, is known for his thesis on the Western Islands of Scotland.  Being from the area himself, he had a greater understanding of the subject of his writings than his later scholars Boswell and Johnson.  Of course, time separates the two sets of writers, but life would have stood relatively still for the main Western Islands population in the intervening period. 

Sir Walter Scott has little good to say about Orkney and its inhabitants.  He did, of course, immortalise many of Orkney’s stories and history in his famous novel The Pirate, but he was also very deprecating about his visits to Kirkwall and Stromness on his travels with the Northern Lighthouse Board. 

The history of the Scottish kirk is exceptionally complicated, and while this research is not about church history, an understanding of the underlying politics is necessary to fully appreciate what was going on in Orkney’s kirks.  I’ve struggled (and still am struggling) with this bit.

A Tom Kent photo of the kirk used today as the Eday Heritage Centre

History is written almost exclusively from the male viewpoint, and of course all of Orkney’s ministers pre-21st century were male.  Does this mean that I will have a different gender viewpoint to the subjects of study?  Probably. I am worried that the majority of the entries in the Kirk Session will be feature negatively towards the women featured, as the Kirk Session will have been exclusively male, therefore with a male’s viewpoint.  How were women viewed, how much leeway were they given compared to their male counterparts, and just how important were they perceived as being?  I assume that absences in the record will answer much of these queries. 


While this is primarily the blog for my studies, other stories about Orkney will feature.