Looking in from the Edge (LIFTE): The impact of international commercialization on north-west Europe's peripheral communities 1468-1712: production, commerce and consumption in Orkney and Shetland

Project Details

Description of project aims

Collaborative Partners: University of Lincoln, Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum
During the early modern period the development of a world system of capitalist trade gradually extended until it brought much of the globe within its influence. In Europe as well, it led to a closer incorporation of peripheral places into the European trade network, and transformed their largely subsistence and low-level trading economies to commercialized, surplus-producing ones. The spread of commercialization had profound effects on local communities, as it required peripheral lands to increase the scale and nature of production, but also made imported goods and materials available to these communities, influencing local cultures and social display.

This project is a microstudy of the Northern Isles of Scotland and examines the introduction of consumer commodities and their impact on the mechanisms of production, exchange and consumption. It contrasts the largely fish-producing economy of Shetland, directed towards the German market, with the agricultural economy of Orkney, which was orientated more towards markets in Norway and Scotland. This ‘island laboratory’ provides an arena in which the transformation towards commercialization can be most closely studied, for there the vectors, mechanisms and impacts of trade can be clearly identified. The project focuses on the period 1468–1712, which marks the the transfer of the isles from Norway to Scotland and the period of Hanseatic trade on the islands, which was crucial for the commercialization process.

The project takes an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating documentary sources, land-based and underwater surveys and limited excavations of trading and consumer sites, the study of archaeological artefacts, an analysis of biological remains indicating commodity production and a study of standing buildings connected with trade. Such an approach allows a consideration of the often meagre historical evidence, providing an holistic understanding of not merely the scale of commerce, but also its material impact on production and consumption. This will provide a comprehensive study of the mechanisms of the trade itself, as well as the social and economic consequences of that trade. The overarching concept of this project is not as a particularistic study of one small place, but as a microstudy illuminating the passage from the medieval to the modern world.
Short titleLIFTE Project
Effective start/end date1/02/2031/01/23

Collaborative partners


  • Archaeology
  • Historical Archaeology
  • Trade
  • Research


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