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Aerial shot of settlement

Project ideas

Scotland's Rural Past (SRP) projects included an exciting and varied range of ideas and approaches aimed at documenting, understanding and celebrating Scotland's extensive rural heritage. We have put together some suggestions here to help you develop your own project. You may wish to mix and match from the ideas given here, or come up with a completely new approach! The most important thing is that you are interested in what you do and enjoy it.

Historical document research

Documentary research is a good starting point for all sorts of projects, or could form the basis of a project in its own right. It is a vital source of information on sites you would like to investigate through fieldwork. Historical documents also provide valuable material for displays, leaflets, interpretation trails, or reports and other documents for publication. The following resources are widely available in local libraries and archives. They are a good starting point for finding out about historical rural settlements in your area:

  • Ordnance Survey maps (1st edition - present day)
  • Ordnance Survey gazetteers
  • Statistical Accounts of Scotland (first and second editions are most useful)
  • Local parish histories

If you wish to gather more detailed information about sites, you could check estate plans and records, sales schedules, photographs, census, or church records. Newspapers and historical map surveys such as General Roy's Military Survey of Scotland, and Pont's maps of Scotland, are also extremely useful. Further information about these sources is available in our Historical Document Research document.

Field surveying

Field survey of archaeological sites and standing buildings is a great way to learn more about deserted rural settlements and landscapes. It gets you outdoors, visiting sites in person and recording what you see. You will really get to know your chosen sites and, by recording them as they appear today, will make a valuable contribution to our long-term understanding of Scotland's historic rural landscape.

You can survey sites in as much, or as little, detail you wish. Everything that you record will increase your own knowledge of historic landscapes and become a valuable addition to the RCAHMS database, the official and most comprehensive public record of Scotland's archaeological, architectural and historical environment (Canmore, the online version of the database, is available at www.rcahms.gov.uk).

Excellent site records can be created using a combination of one or more of the following methods:

  • Find and identify settlements, then record their location using GPS or Ordnance Survey maps
  • Count the buildings and related features in each settlement
  • Photograph settlements and any interesting features within them
  • Make annotated sketch plans of settlements. This might also include land use and vegetation patterns in the immediate area
  • Identify the functions of individual buildings and features
  • Create detailed scale plans of individual buildings or groups of buildings and associated features, which will allow you to distinguish structural components or phases of construction.

All of these techniques are simple to do and require very little training - some none at all! And if you decide to undertake a fieldwork project, we can provide you with help and assistance along the way:

  • On-line guidelines on field survey and recording techniques
  • Support from our expert staff
  • Maps and information on sites in your area from the RCAHMS database
  • A special recording form to help you record relevant information and add it to the RCAHMS database
  • The loan of field survey equipment for the duration of your project

Studying place names

Looking at place names can tell us a lot about the past. They are often extremely descriptive and hold clues about what the landscape used to look like, the lives of the people that lived and worked there, and even where they came from. Some place names have very ancient origins, others are more recent and have interesting stories to tell. You could investigate local place names in your area and, if you wanted, publish your findings in a local journal or as an information leaflet, for example, or use them as the basis for a more creative project. For more information about Place Names research, please can you go to our Historical Document bibliography.

Interpreting and promoting sites

You may wish to share your knowledge and encourage others to learn more about your rural past. This might be done by creating:

  • Information boards describing townships and their landscapes;
  • Walking trails, helping visitors to explore historic townships and landscapes;
  • Guide books, leaflets, guided tours, talks;
  • Exhibitions (of old photographs, for example);
  • Projects for schools or Young Archaeologist Clubs (YACs).

Further details can also be found in our Interpretation and Creative Ideas guidance notes.

Preserving and maintaining sites

You may like to get involved with the maintenance and monitoring of sites, perhaps working with a local conservation group or school. You could also get more involved with the preservation and conservation of threatened sites. Archaeology Scotland's Adopt a Monument scheme has been set up for this purpose.

Recording oral histories

Older members of your community may be a valuable source of information about Scottish rural life. Recording their views on what the landscape, settlements, people, and lifestyle used to be like and how they have changed provides an exceptional - and rapidly fading - insight into a lost way of life. It might be interesting to interview people of all ages to see how different people relate to the same landscape, or to build up a profile of the community that presently lives and works in your survey area. The information you gather could be used in local radio programmes, deposited in a local or national archive, or presented at local community events. Or it could be used in other ways, such as developing a written record, songs, poetry or a play. Further information about planning Oral History projects can be found in our Oral History guidance notes.

Exploring local customs and beliefs

Lots of country traditions have been passed down to us in sayings and habits that we use every day without knowing why - it might be interesting to explore local customs and beliefs in your study area. This information could be used to form part of an exhibition or leaflet, or displayed on the SRP website, for example.

Doing something completely different

There are many other exciting ways for you and your community to learn about your rural past and present it to others. You might want to create an artistic, literary, or musical event that celebrates your rural landscape and the rich culture of the rural past, for example. You might want to develop an education project with local children and schools, or you might want to undertake a research project of your own. Further information can be found in out Interpretation and Creative Ideas guidance notes.

You may also like to read our documents on:

Project Design: this provides advice on putting your project together.

Insurance, Funding, Access, Risk Assessment and Transfering records: these practical guidance notes provide advice on important practical matters for you to consider when setting up your project.

© Historic Environment Scotland - Scottish Charity No. SC045925.