A Historical Archaeology of Whisky in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. c.1500-1850

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by UHI)


This is a study of the historical archaeology of whisky distilling in the Highlands
and Islands of Scotland from c.1500AD to c.1850AD. Historical archaeology, as a
combination of historical and archaeological methods is utilised throughout the thesis
to investigate two core research questions. It uses geographically diverse case-studies
to investigate the archaeology related to whisky distilling in different areas of the
Highlands and Islands, complemented by in-depth historical research for each of the
case study areas. These case studies were Strathconon, in the north Highlands,
Speyside in the east and Islay, a Hebridean island to the south. As a complement to
this approach a wider survey of historical and archival sources, and the national and
regional HERs are also drawn upon up to enhance a discussion around the research
This is also an historical archaeology of distilling in that it seeks to be critical,
and to understand from where modern whisky distilling, still an economically and
culturally important industry, emerged. How this industry emerged through the
tumultuous late 18th and 19th centuries is a key theme. Historical and archaeological
research is unified to achieve a better understanding of how distilling was conducted
and experienced by ordinary Highlanders, particularly illicit distillers, taking part in an
industry which is a world away from the large-scale, legal distilling industry that had
emerged by the end of the 19th century. Distilling is studied as an element of
commercial practice which was an aspect of Highland life and economy which
occurred on several scales from at least the 16th century.
This thesis produces an understanding of the role of whisky in the economy
and society of the Highlands and Islands from the 17th century until the mid-19th
century. The social, cultural and economic aspects of the distillation and consumption
of whisky are treated as equally important. The place of both distillation and
consumption are viewed as a part of the wider economy, culture and society of the
Highlands through time, with changing modes of consumption and distillation being
identified and scrutinized, drawing out a complex understanding of how diverse groups
of people were impacted by change through the post-medieval history of the Highlands
and Islands.
Date of Award20 Feb 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SponsorsESF studentship
SupervisorJane Downes (Supervisor) & Elizabeth Ritchie (Supervisor)

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