Coastal Adjacencies

‘I thought the variety of subjects dealt with at the conference showed very clearly that there is a multitude of themes and disciplines affected by coastal management’

‘The concepts of coastal history and the themes of the diverse papers have given me some new perspectives.’

‘Great range of topics and variety of strands connected to the coasts.’

‘I am going to use the discussion about coastal history in the theoretical framework of my dissertation.’

These were just four comments received from hundreds of points made on our evaluation forms in relation to the recent ‘Firths and Fjords’ conference. It was the first ever conference on the Coastal History theme, and the biggest and most ambitious academic gathering to have taken place in Dornoch to this date.

Taken together with the Twitter archive – over 900 tweets in the week from 30 March 2016 using the #firths2016 hashtag – this feedback provided helpful, constructive and encouraging insights regarding, for example, the catering, live music, ceilidh, exhibitions, film screening, and excursion. All of these were integral to the event and involved support from numerous people and groups (highlighted during the three days but too many to list here). There were hitches along the way and there are lessons for us to learn. However, the responses do, I think, indicate the engagement with the theme felt by the diverse group of 100-plus people who took part.

Braw Chocolate made by Dornoch Academy students being put on display at the conference. Photo by Alison Munro – more conference photos here

And now this blog. I pondered with the rest of the organising team about trying to create a ‘Firths and Fjords package’, an overall presentation of ‘where we go from here?’. However, we’ve decided against that since, in terms of publication alone, we are already navigating steadily towards publishing an edited volume focused on the international aspects of the theme, cultural and environmental perspectives on ‘adjacent coast’ communities (those living around firths, sea lochs, sounds, straits, inlets, gulfs and bays, for example) and are keen to encourage and support other speakers to submit journal articles based on their papers. We also didn’t want to encroach on the wonderful range of themes covered in the Coastal History blog, run by Professor Isaac Land of Indiana State University (and hosted by the Port Towns and Urban Cultures project at the University of Portsmouth).

As you’ll see, the header for this site features a detail from Sue Jane Taylor’s outstanding art, based on the image from the Cromarty Firth which proved to be such a defining one for the conference. Several speakers have already indicated that they would be willing to write posts, so watch out for those over coming weeks and months.  Still, we’re very keen for the contributions to not be limited to them but to involve thoughts and pointers about all aspects of the three days of events (both indoors and outdoors since the weather was very kind) and the topics and debates I trust they helped highlight. So, if you have any blog-length reflections you’d wish to write up as an attendee, exhibitor, organising team member, musician, funder, as a member of Dornoch and District Community Association, Dornoch Allsorts, Dornoch Academy Parent Council, or as an academy student or staff member who was involved, I would be delighted to publish these. Please email me at the address provided at the bottom here.

In terms of broader content, we’d like to see posts debating and critiquing:

  • the concept of adjacent coasts in Scotland and beyond, about which I provided post 33 for Professor Land’s blog back in November, and which was expanded on by so many ‘Firths and Fjords’ speakers;
  • historical perspectives on firths, sea lochs, voes, fjords, inlets, sounds, straits, estuaries, bays, gulfs and their communities;
  • the social, cultural and economic history of the Dornoch, Cromarty, Beauly, Kessock and Moray Firths;
  • coastal ferries, transport and communications;
  • how medieval, early modern and modern Coastal History could connect further with a more cross-disciplinary Coastal Studies and how we historians might learn from other subject areas in terms of our approach to the littoral.

Struie Hill - looking west

There could (and will, we hope) be many others and I’m perhaps bound to say that academics working in university departments have a crucial role to play in this. However, as I see it, we do not in any sense ‘own’ history. When it comes to the ebb and flow of ideas, the blogosphere comes into its own as a dynamic, shared space. While I remember, please do, if you’re interested, have a look at the ‘Moray Firth History’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, which I run and which were set up to explore and contextualise the past of the Fraserburgh-Beauly-Wick indented triangle. Thanks for your support!

Dr David Worthington, Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands, Dornoch, Scotland



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