Opened by the Irish President Mary MacAleese in 1999, the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Aberdeen promotes research into the languages, histories and literatures of Ireland and Scotland, and of their global diasporic communities. Founded by Professors George Watson (1942-2009) and Allan Macinnes, its creation was inspired by the changes instigated in the governance of the islands by the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement of 1998 and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament the year after. In helping to reimagine the contours of their shared experience, RIISS has always supported high-quality single-discipline research as well as comparative and interdisciplinary projects.

RIISS has since become known for its work on diasporic experience, for its comprehensive studies of the various languages of these territories, and for supporting significant digital humanities projects, such as the 1641 Depositions database and the Aberdeen Burgh Records Project. Current work builds on this legacy by revising the relationship between Ireland, Scotland and the British Empire, by exploring the Jacobite diaspora, and by reconceptualising the relationship between youth and nationhood in the period since 1850.

RIISS has a strong track record of attracting funding (raising over £3.5m from British, Irish and European sources, plus £0.5m from private sources). The AHRC Centre (2001-10) established a partnership of three institutions – the University of Aberdeen, Queen’s University Belfast and Trinity College Dublin, together with an international network of centres of Irish and Scottish studies which included the Universities of Wellington and Otago (NZ), Toronto and Simon Fraser (Can), and Notre Dame and Boston College (USA) – with unrivalled expertise in the fields of Irish and Scottish culture.

  • Phase One of the Centre’s work (2001-05) delivered successful outcomes to fourteen research projects across the disciplines of history, language and literature. 
  • Phase Two was entirely comparative in nature. Working on five strands of research, it developed theoretical perspectives on the study of Ireland and Scotland, providing an effective foundation for the future study of both countries and providing a model for other such comparative studies of linked cultures.
  • Phase Three built upon a substantial private bequest, which allowed RIISS to initiate major projects. These included the AHRC-sponsored United Islands research network, and the Catholic Memory Project, for which RIISS partnered with the Cushwa Centre for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. It also revived the dormant Aberdeen University Press imprint, with a range of publications in history, literature and creative writing in English, Irish and Scots Gaelic, Scots and Ullans, and including the Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies. Aberdeen University Press is now a full service, open access University Press.

Now RIISS has moved into a new phase (Phase 4). It has partnered with the Jacobite Studies Trust to support work on the Jacobite World; RIISS staff are actively publishing on both the Irish and the Scottish Enlightenments and their fate in the Age of Revolution and Romanticism; and members are developing a research strand on the culture and experience of young people in the epoch of nation building.

Further to these projects, RIISS remains an outward and forward-looking institution. It hosts innovative and interdisciplinary conferences, workshops and an established seminar series that explore Scotland’s and Ireland’s connections with each other as well as with Britain, Europe, and the wider world. RIISS also seeks to interrogate how Ireland and Scotland has come to terms with the legacy of empire and the challenges of nationhood. And it looks to maintain the health of the field of study through its support of the next generation of scholarship through the ‘New Voices in Irish and Scottish Studies’ initiative.

Recent publications by members of the Institute include:

  • Jackson W. Armstrong and Edda Frankot (eds), Cultures of Law in Urban Northern Europe: Scotland and its Neighbours c. 1350 – c. 1650 (Routledge: London and New York, 2020)
  • Jackson W. Armstrong and Andrew Mackillop (guest eds), Special Issue “Scottish Urban Archives and Histories: Context and a Legal Historical Perspective”, Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies, 9, 2 (2018)
  • Jackson W. Armstrong and Andrew Mackillop (guest eds), Special Section: “Communities, Courts and Scottish Towns”, Urban History 44, 3 (2017), 358-423
  • Colin Barr, Ireland’s Empire: The Roman Catholic Church in the English-Speaking World, 1829-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020)
  • Charles Bradford Bow, Dugald Stewart’s Empire of the Mind: Moral Education in the Late Scottish Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford University press, 2022)
  • Michael Brown, The Irish Enlightenment (Cambridge MA, Harvard University Press, 2016)
  • Michael Brown, ‘Ethnic Jokes and Polite Language: Soft Othering and Macklin’s British Comedies’ in Ian Newman and David O’Shaughnessy (eds), Charles Macklin and the Practice of Enlightenment (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2022), 173-192
  • Michael Brown and Jack A Hill (eds), Adam Ferguson and the Politics of Virtue (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 2023)
  • Cairns Craig, The Wealth of the Nation: Scotland, Culture and Independence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018)
  • Cairns Craig, Muriel Spark, Existentialism and the Art of Death (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019)
  • Marjory Harper, Testimonies of Transition: Voices from the Scottish Diaspora (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2020)
  • Sarah Sharp, ‘Exporting “The Cotter's Saturday Night”: Robert Burns, Scottish Romantic Nationalism and Colonial Settler Identity’, Romanticism (2019)
  • Sarah Sharp, ‘“Your vocation is marriage”: Systematic Colonisation, the Marriage Plot and Finding Home in Catherine Helen Spence's Clara Morison (1854)’, Scottish Literary Review (2019).