Aberdeen Burgh Records Project

Aberdeen Burgh Records Project

Aberdeen has the earliest and most complete body of surviving records of any Scottish town, with a near continuous run of council registers from 1398 to the present. Such is the value and significance of these records that in July 2013 the eight volumes covering the period 1398 to 1511 were recognised by UNESCO as being of outstanding historical importance to the UK.



The Aberdeen Burgh Records Project is a collaboration between the University and the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives (ACAA) which has been in place since 2012. In the early stages of activity the National Records of Scotland (NRS) were also actively involved. Following two pilot studies (2013-14 and 2014), a major Leverhulme Trust-funded project has now been completed (2016-19), and a major international AHRC & DFG collaborative project is underway (2020-23). Follow the Aberdeen Burgh Records Project blog at aberdeenregisters.org.

The AHRC & DFG-funded project, ‘Finance, law and the language of governmental practice in late medieval towns: Aberdeen and Augsburg in comparison’ (FLAG), has a dedicated website. Professor Jackson Armstrong and Professor Dr Jörg Rogge (Mainz) are the joint PIs of this project.

The Leverhulme-funded project, 'Law in the Aberdeen Council Registers 1398-1511: Concepts, Practices, Geographies' (LACR), led by Professor Jackson Armstrong as PI, created a digital textual resource from the first eight volumes of the Aberdeen Council Registers. This is in the format of a versatile and online Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) compliant transcription. Our academic and technical programmes are interlinked and our goal is to unlock the textual content of these records for new investigation, through a digital transcription which underpins our analysis and which is now available to all as the Aberdeen Registers Online (ARO). Various publications by LACR team members have appeared or are in preparation, including a collection of essays arising from the project co-edited by Professor Jackson Armstrong and Dr Edda Frankot entitled Cultures of Law in Urban Northern Europe: Scotland and its Neighbours c.1350-c.1650 (Routledge, 2020).

Research Fellowships and Postgraduate Research Funding

In October 2020 Ebba Strutzenbladh began a PhD project on "Women, law and landed networks in Scotland, c.1460 - c. 1560: Aberdeen and the Northeast". Ebba holds SGSAH doctoral funding and is working with supervisors Jackson Armstrong (Aberdeen), Ali Cathcart (Stirling) and Alan MacDonald (Dundee).

In 2019-2020 LACR alumnus Dr William Hepburn held a Research Fellowship funded by Chivas Brothers which investigated the stories in the ARO connected with the mention in 1505 of an aquavite still.

In 2019 Dr William Hepburn held an AHRC Creative Economies Engagement Fellowship through the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities. It was called Playing in the Archives: Game Development with Aberdeen's Medieval Records. In the Fellowship Dr Hepburn explored the effectiveness of video games as a scholarly medium for examining the burgh records and the historical subjects they inform.

Creative and Artistic Responses

In 2018-2019 LACR alumna Dr Claire Hawes won a Creative Funding Award from Aberdeen City Council to support her collaboration with musicians Davy Cattanach and Paddy Buchanan to explore how songwriters can use historical material in their work. The trio have written a set of original songs composed in response to the contents of the Aberdeen council registers. In March 2020 they performed at the Holyrood Parliament.

Pilot Studies

In 2013 the original pilot study 'Connecting and Projecting Aberdeen's Burgh Records', funded by RIISS, tested the practicalities of creating an online, publicly-accessible database which links a full transcription and translation of the registers’ text with corresponding images. The sample covers fifty folios (one hundred images) for the six months from October 1530 to March 1531 (Volume CA1/1/13). This was a ‘proof of concept’ exercise using a previously underexplored volume to identify technical solutions as well as the appropriate editorial procedures for the creation of comprehensive transcriptions, translations, and a searchable database. Professor Jackson Armstrong and Dr Andrew Mackillop were joint PIs of this pilot. A special section of Urban History (2017) and a special issue of the Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies (2018), both co-edited by the PIs, have been published in connection with this study.

In December 2013 a linked project, A Text Analytic Approach to Rural and Urban Legal Histories (Dr Adam Wyner, PI), secured funding from the dot.rural Resource Partnership. The purpose of this project which ran in 2014 was a six-month pilot study to apply text analytical tools to the 100-page transcription of the council registers generated through the preceding RIISS pilot. This pilot explored a new method with which to interpret the linguistically meaningful content of the text, making it machine readable and richly annotated. To accomplish this, a text analytic tool was developed that specifically relates to the language, content, and structure of the record. The result is an accessible, flexible, and essential precursor to the development of Semantic Web and linked data applications related to this and other material.  Using text analytic software, it is possible to identify, query, and extract legal entities, individuals, offices, events, roles and others as well as the relations between these elements.  Such an analysis helps to address legal historical issues such as the political and legal culture and authority in the Burgh and Shire, particularly pertaining to the management and use of natural resources. An understanding of these issues, and being able to access them using Semantic Web/linked data technologies, facilitates further exploitation in applications.