Archives and Research

Cultural heritage

Our cultural and natural heritage research seeks to investigate and understand our properties in care.

1 Overview

Our cultural and natural heritage research seeks to investigate and understand Scotland’s 336 properties in care. 

We use the knowledge gained to better understand the cultural and natural significance of the monuments individually and collectively. This informs decisions about their conservation and management, and informs the development of content for interpretation and learning programmes. The knowledge is also available in archives and used by third parties. 

We continually add to our understanding of the properties in our care. It’s a process often led by experts, with interpretation playing a key part in testing theories. Communities and other audiences contribute to our cultural understanding of places through stories, art and folklore. 

We also undertake more than 60 biodiversity surveys each year. These inform site management and feed into local and national databases.  

2 Teams

Place and Publishing

The Place and Publishing Team is responsible for developing the knowledge and understanding of our properties in care. It also produces high quality publications relating to the built environment of Scotland.

Within Place and Publishing are the following teams:

Cultural Resources Team

The multidisciplinary Cultural Resources Team includes historians, archaeologists, buildings specialists and cultural heritage experts, and is responsible for recording and developing knowledge and understanding of properties in care

The team’s work includes:

  • curating and maintaining the Statements of Significance, which express the values associated with a property in care and inform our work at them
  • serving as archaeological, historical and significance experts, providing advice to guide the conservation, interpretation and management of the properties
  • undertaking and managing research programmes into the properties in care such as geophysical survey, archival research and standing building recording
  • operating as professional archaeological advisors within the consent process for works and managing programmes of archaeological excavation and historical research at the monuments
  • answering research questions in relation to our properties, their connections and contexts

Visitor Experience, Content and Learning

The Visitor Experience, Content and Learning Team is responsible for most of the cultural and natural research that relates to Scotland’s properties in care.  

Its functions develop understanding and use that knowledge to advise, inform, interpret and engage. By continually testing and enriching our research, we’re able to increase our understanding of the properties.

Within Visitor Experience, Content and Learning are the following teams: 

Interpretation Team

Area of focus: Delivering content-led, audience-focused interpretation at and about properties in care.

Our Interpretation Team’s work enhances visitors’ experiences and facilitates access and engagement through a wide range of media. The team draws on our research to develop content for panels, audio tours, guidebooks, guided tours, exhibitions, quizzes and more at our properties in care.

The research also informs online information, our members’ magazine and our programme of events.

Learning Team

Area of focus: Providing content-led programmes to help diverse audiences to value, share and celebrate Scotland’s historic environment.

The Learning Team draws on our rich research to deliver innovative and inclusive learning programmes across Scotland. These support national outcomes and education policy, inspire creativity and enhance health and well-being through outdoor learning.

3 Partnerships and funding

Most of our cultural and natural heritage research is funded by Historic Environment Scotland’s core budget. This includes significant research programmes designed to update Statements of Significance and to inform interpretation projects. Almost all involve working with third party experts and academics. 

We also occasionally fund targeted academic research through partnerships with academic organisations and other third party researchers. 

About the Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium

The Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) brings together three of Scotland’s national collections and national heritage agency, all of whom are internationally respected for their work in researching, documenting and promoting understanding of material culture.

The SCHC comprises Historic Environment Scotland, National Museums Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland, and the National Library of Scotland. The SCHC is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The aims of the Consortium are:

  • deliver world-class research and high-quality studentships that promote collaboration between the academic community and our work and collections
  • encourage inter- and cross-disciplinary doctoral research on material culture that contributes to the strategic objectives of the institutions and has public impact
  • build a supportive training and professional development environment that shares skills across our institutions and promotes integrated access to our collections
  • maximise the impact and value of the research generated by working collaboratively to provide routes for sharing both between institutions and with a wider public
  • add economic value by providing training and opportunities that enhance the employability of the students
Each year the SCHC awards six funded studentships which enable a Higher Education Institute (HEI) and a Consortium member organisation to collaborate on a PhD project.

4 Research opportunities

We fund academic research through partnerships with Higher Education Institutes (HEI) and other third party researchers.

Each year the Scottish Cultural Heritage Consortium (SCHC) awards six funded studentships which enable an HEI and a SCHC member organisation to collaborate on a PhD project.

The SCHC is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Further information about collaborative studentships funded by the AHRC can be found on the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Consortium website.

Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships

Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships (CDPs) are allocations of AHRC funded collaborative research studentships made to a museum, library, archive or heritage organization, or group of such organisations to allocate to collaborative projects that support their work and objectives.
Proposals for studentships are submitted to the CDP holder, each of whom hold their own selection process to choose the proposals they will support.
Studentships are then advertised to recruit a student, although in some case a named student can be proposed as part of the overall proposal.
Interested HEIs are invited to develop proposals for studentships in collaboration with the individual member organisations of the SCHC. The individual member organisations will be responsible for shortlisting proposals for submission to the Consortium selection panel by Friday 24 November 2017.
The internal deadline for proposals to be shortlisted by each member organisation will be earlier than the final deadline, typically by 4-6 weeks.
Please contact the relevant member organisations to discuss their internal call for proposals and details of their own timetable: 

Historic Environment Scotland call for proposals

All CDPs have a deadline for submission to their selection panels of Friday 24 November 2017. Selection panels are being held in January 2018, and this will allow us to advertise for students in February/March 2018 for a September/October start.

We run our internal shortlisting process in advance so we can choose the proposals that Historic Environment Scotland will put forward to the SCHC Selection Panel.

Download SCHC CDP Application Form [DOCX, 136 KB]

Download SCHC Assessment Guidance [DOCX, 24 KB]


  • June 2017: invitation to submit circulated

  • Wednesday 27 September 2017: submission to Rebecca Bailey ( of first draft HES applications

  • Tuesday 10 October 2017: feedback on first drafts for revision

  • Tuesday 31 October 2017: submission to HES Shortlisting Panel of second drafts

  • Mid-November 2017: HES Shortlisting Panel meets

  • Friday 17 November 2017: notification of proposals to be put forward, with feedback for revision

  • Friday 24 November 2017: submission of final revised drafts, sent out to SCHC Selection Panel

  • Early January 2018: SCHC Selection Panel meets

  • Mid January 2018: awards announced

Please send applications to Rebecca Bailey (

5 Projects

Our work is always ongoing, whether it’s research to inform a PhD or to answer a question from one of our Junior Tour Guides.  

Edinburgh Castle: understanding Scotland’s best-known monument 

A member of staff oversees a recent excavation on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.

Excavations on the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade in 2010.

Edinburgh Castle is our best-known monument, but it’s also among the least understood. 

Until recently, the castle and its site had been subject to little historical research and only limited archaeological investigation. 

We’ve been correcting that with a multi-strand programme of archaeological and historical research designed to enhance understanding of many aspects of the castle. These include, but aren’t limited to 

  • prehistoric and dark age activity on Castle Rock 
  • the medieval castle’s story 
  • the 19th-century approach to presenting the castle to visitors 

The programme is ongoing but some remarkable results are already reaching our visitors through updated guided tours. We’re working on updating learning and interpretation activities at the castle, and will be publishing the results of our research online. 

Elgin Cathedral carved stones redisplay project 

A fragment of an ornate column capital from Elgin Cathedral.

A fragment of an ornate column capital from Elgin Cathedral.

Elgin Cathedral, built in the early 1200s, is home to the most important collection of medieval carved stone fragments in Scotland. We wanted to re-interpret and redisplay the stones to show people that they were once brightly painted. To achieve this, we worked with Edinburgh Napier University to deliver an innovative means of presentation using a non-intrusive lighting solution. 

The exhibition, also supported by Moray Council, has involved new research into understanding the cathedral’s carved stone collection. This has fed into the interpretive displays that tell the story of the church, the bishops who commissioned it and the masons employed to build it.  

Interpretive displays explore the language of medieval sculpture and decode the messages of the cathedral’s carvings for our audiences.  

Research techniques 

Our research techniques are many and varied. These range from the use of remote sensing techniques such as geophysical survey to identify below-ground features to routine, reactive, pre-planned research and rescue excavations.  

Historical research is focused on primary rather than secondary sources whenever possible. In recent years we have developed a model of expert workshops and public seminars to develop and communicate research outcomes.  

Bringing a range of experts together to discuss and debate often questions our existing knowledge and focuses our research. In turn, this often enhances the research outcomes and our understanding.  

6 Publications and conferences

Our research is shared via many avenues, including: 

  • on-site interpretation including exhibitions, audio tours and events  
  • learning programmes and projects  
  • ranger talks and walks 
  • publications 
  • national and international conferences  
  • archives

Our research is also used in the:

Statements of Significance

Our Statements of Significance are documents outlining the history and development of Scotland’s properties in care.

The statements highlight the key features that make the properties special. We’re continually revising them, so they may vary in length, format and level of detail.

Many were compiled some time ago and some are very much a work in progress.

The Statements of Significance are often more technical than publications such as guidebooks. We hope that students, researchers and the public will make use of them. If you can't find a particular statement, please contact us by email at

Read the Statements of Significance.


For further information please email