"One Island's Harvest". Heritage, Diaspora & Ancestral Tourism to Tiree

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


This thesis explores ancestral tourism, a globally ubiquitous heritage tourism practice which in Scotland has become entangled with specific narratives about diaspora, tourism and heritage. Consequently, the topic intersects with debates surrounding cultural identity, authenticity and the sustainability of Scotland’s most fragile communities. This thesis contributes to these ongoing academic discussions by identifying and challenging an ‘authorised heritage discourse’ (Smith, 2006) about ancestral tourism that has limited our understanding of what this heritage tourism practice can mean, and, more importantly, how it can be used. In an effort to break free of currently dominant “nationalist, top-down, commercial” approaches, this study therefore explores ancestral tourism, diaspora and heritage ‘from below’ (Robertson, 2012, p.1). It focuses on understanding the perspectives of people – both tourists and residents – involved with ancestral tourism to the Hebridean island of Tiree, part of Scotland’s Gàidhealtachd.
Taking the form of a multi-sited ethnography, this study traces the meanings and experiences entangled with ancestral tourism to Tiree, thus bringing into view the “diaspora space” within which such journeys take place, and exploring “the intertwining of the genealogies of dispersion with those of ‘staying put’” (Brah, 1996, p. 205). This examination brings into sharper focus a view of heritage as the tangible and intangible outcome of active, relational processes through which people ascribe meanings to the past. Focusing attention on the heritage ‘work’ surrounding ancestral tourism, this thesis examines perspectives and meanings that have previously been overlooked or misrecognised. It shows that ancestral tourism is used by both tourists and islanders to create, strengthen and maintain connections to the island, its people and its pasts at both personal and collective scales. The potential value of ancestral tourism, in cultural and social terms, is revealed to be vastly greater than hitherto acknowledged.
Date of Award15 Sept 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SponsorsESF studentship
SupervisorIain James McPherson Robertson (Supervisor), Anna de Jong (Supervisor) & Peter Varley (Supervisor)

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