Culture

Orkney, Shetland and The Merchants of Bremen and Hamburg

A major research project is to get underway investigating trade links in early modern Europe. The three-year programme  entitled Looking In From The Edge (LIFTE) has secured a grant of £779,000 from The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the German Research Council (DFG).

The research will involve collaborative work with a team of archaeologists and historians from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, University of Lincoln and the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven.

The research team at UHI Archaeology Institute, Orkney College, with Professor Neil Simco, Vice-Principal (Research and Impact) of the UHI, and Professor Jane Downes, Head of the UHI Archaeology Institute

The research team at UHI Archaeology Institute, Orkney College, with Professor Neil Simco, Vice-Principal (Research and Impact) of the UHI, and Professor Jane Downes, Head of the UHI Archaeology Institute

The three-year programme  Looking In From The Edge (LIFTE) project will be led in  the by Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon at the UHI Archaeology Institute based at Orkney College UHI. Dr Gibbon will work collaboratively with Dr Natascha Mehler from the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, who is leading the German team.

The UK team also includes Associate Professor Mark Gardiner from Lincoln University and a team from the University of the Highlands and Islands comprising Dr Jen Harland, Dr Ingrid Mainland, Paul Sharman, Julie Gibson and Dan Lee.

Dr Natascha Mehler said:

“ In recent years, German trade with the North Atlantic islands has been studied in more detail and our knowledge about trade mechanisms and the cultural impact of this trade has increased considerably. But the focus of recent projects has been mainly on Iceland and its role within the network of the Hanseatic League.

“This new project now allows us to zoom into Orkney and Shetland and put into context the enterprise of Bremen and Hamburg merchants who travelled to the Northern Isles.”

Dr Natascha Mehler surveying the German Trading site at Gunnister Voe, Northmavine, Shetland used around 1600 © Mark Gardiner

Dr Natascha Mehler surveying the German Trading site at Gunnister Voe, Northmavine, Shetland used around 1600 © Mark Gardiner

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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 peripheral places becoming closely tied into continental European trade networks, transforming their largely subsistence and low-level trading economies to commercialised, surplus-producing ones.

This exciting European project will not only involve academic teams from across northwest Europe, but will also engage local communities and train individuals in various methods of research from archaeology, history and geography. The research teams will use archive research, land and sea surveys, excavation of trading sites, study of artefacts and biological remains to examine in detail how the islands of Orkney and Shetland were integrated into a wider economic realm in early modern Europe. In effect the research will look at how communities were affected and became involved in the very early stages of the global economy that we know today through the mechanism of the Hanseatic League and other trading networks across the North Sea.

Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon said:

“This project offers us an exciting opportunity to work as an international team with communities in Orkney, Shetland, Germany and Norway on the little-researched impact of international trade on north-west Europe’s peripheral communities during the period from 1468–1712.

“The work will give us an opportunity to look into the mechanisms of early modern trade and how the Northern Isles adapted to a changing economic world. How did this emerging international trade change the islanders’ way of making and trading their wares and products? What were the consequences of this rapidly changing and expanding world on the social and economic ways of life for the islanders? All questions that are surely as relevant now as they were more than 300 years ago.”

17th century Storehouse, St Mary's, Orkney

17th century Storehouse, St Mary’s, Orkney

Dr Mark Gardiner said:

“The east coast of England, with its major ports on the Humber and around The Wash, played an important role in fishing and trading. It looked both to the Hanse ports of continental Europe and the communities of the North Atlantic. We will be studying historical sources and using excavation to show how the Northern Isles of Scotland were brought into these trading networks of early Modern Europe.”

 

Watch: A talk hosted by Orkney Archaeology Society by Dr Jeremy Howard of St Andrews University. Held on 8th of February 2020 at St Magnus Centre, Kirkwall Orkney

 

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