Visiting professor explores island mystery

A GIS and historic landscape expert has been announced as the next Fulbright-Scotland Visiting Professor at Edinburgh.


Professor Matthew Bampton, a geographer from the University of Southern Maine, will begin his six month visit, which is organised by the US-UK Fulbright Commission - one of the world’s most prestigious academic exchange programmes - in August.

During his stay at the University, he will work on a project to determine what caused the destruction of a village in the Shetland Islands in the 17th century.

Transatlantic project

Professor Bampton has worked with researchers in the US and UK for four years to study the interactions between climate change and human activity in this region of Shetland.

He is looking forward to working with academics such as Professor Jim Crow, Head of Archaeology at the University, during his stay this year.

He believes interpreting these past events can help develop an understanding of ongoing human reactions to current climate change.

A group of archaeologists, geologists and biologists visited the island in 2011 and 2012, where they excavated the area to locate buried structures and track the history of the village of Broo.

The team was led by Professor Gerald Bigelow, of Bates College, Maine, who also continues to work on the project.

Several experts from the UK, including Professor Andy Dugmore, of the University’s Institute of Geography, are also involved with the work.

As part of his Fulbright scholarship, Professor Bampton plans to visit the area again, where he will develop more maps and liaise with local community groups.

The opportunity the Fulbright Commission offers is extraordinary. I am thrilled to have the chance to work in Edinburgh and visit Shetland to build on our findings. I am looking forward to working with academics at the University who have already been incredibly forthcoming and engaged with the project.

Professor Matthew BamptonUniversity of Southern Maine

Lost village

Shetland was hit by a series of severe storms in the late 17th Century - at the end of an extreme climate event known as the Little Ice Age - and it was during this time the village of Broo was engulfed by rapidly moving sand dunes.

Professor Bampton has developed high resolution 3-dimensional maps of the region from around the time of the storm - and the years after - to identify changes in the landscape.

During his six-month visit, he plans to build on his findings, correlating the maps with historical records to develop a model of the process by which Broo was buried.

Prestigious programme

Professor Bampton is among 300,000 scholars worldwide who have participated in the Fulbright program.

He is continuing The Fulbright Commission’s links with the University, which began in 2008. The initiative is led by the College of Humanities and Social Science.

Esteemed alumni

The Fulbright Program was set up by US Senator J. William Fulbright after the Second World War to foster mutual cultural understanding through educational exchange between the United Kingdom and United States.

Forty four Nobel Prizes have been awarded to individuals who received Fulbright Scholarships.

Notable alumni of the scheme include economist Milton Friedman, poet Sylvia Plath and Edinburgh- based mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah.