I studied for my PhD in History at the University of Aberdeen before taking up a post as a research fellow, and subsequently a lecturer, at the same institution. I have spent my entire career at the University of Aberdeen, as lecturer, senior lecturer, reader and professor, but I have also enjoyed secondments to the Centre for History, University of the Highlands and Islands, where I am currently a senior researcher.
I teach mainly Scottish history since 1700, with a particular emphasis on emigration and the Scottish diaspora, as well as the history of the modern Highlands and Islands. Since 2017 my teaching has focused primarily on the development and delivery of an award-winning online multi-disciplinary Master's Programme in Scottish Heritage. I have undertaken similar work in developing online training for the Scottish Tourist Guides Association.
My research and publications are mainly in the field of Scottish emigration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I have published twelve monographs and edited collections, including three prize-winning monographs and an audio book, and over 100 articles. My monograph on nineteenth-century Scottish emigration, Adventurers and Exiles: The Great Scottish Exodus (London, 2003) won the Saltire Society Prize for the best Scottish History book in 2004, and a subsequent monograph, Scotland No More? The Scots Who Left Scotland in the Twentieth Century (Edinburgh, 2012), won the University of Guelph's Frank Watson Prize in 2013. My interest in migration extends beyond Scotland, and I co-authored Migration and Empire (Oxford, 2010), a Companion volume in the Oxford History of the British Empire.
As well as my recent research and publications in oral history (including the compilation of a databank of well over 100 interviews), I have directed a research project which led to the compilation of a free, and heavily used, online database of Scottish emigrants (www.abdn.ac.uk/emigration). I contributed a feature on 'Lithuanians in Scotland' to the award-winning website 'Our Migration Story: The Making of Britain', an AHRC-funded collaboration between the Runnymede Trust and academics.
I enjoy inter-disciplinary research and writing, particularly in the field of medical humanities. In 2014 I organised an international conference on mental health and migration, which led to the publication of my edited book, Migration and Mental Health: Past and Present (Basingstoke, 2016), as well as a number of articles in journals such as The Psychologist, Wellcome History (online journal) and Neurosciences and History (the Journal of the Spanish Society of Neurology. I have ventured into the field of genealogical tourism with 'Homecoming emigrants as tourists: reconnecting the Scottish diaspora' in Sabine Marschall (ed.), Tourism and Memories of Home (Bristol, 2017). In January 2021 an article that I co-authored with a colleague from the geography department at Swansea University was accepted for publication in Social and Cultural Geography (Sergei Shubin and Marjory Harper, 'Spiritual homes on the move: narratives of migrations from Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries'). In 2016, thanks to the award of a Caird Short-Term Research Fellowship at the National Maritime Museum, I published an article, 'The evolution of emigrant travel to New Zealand in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries', in The Journal for Maritime Research, 18: 1 (2016), pp. 27-35.
In 2019 I was asked to serve as one of three historical consultants to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. This appointment involved researching and co-authoring a 556-page report on child and juvenile migration, and giving testimony to the hearings in Edinburgh in September 2020.
In the course of my career I have delivered approximately 250 public lectures, ranging from local evening classes to international events, including the Edinburgh Book Festival, a Smithsonian Institution symposium, and a panel discussion at the Carnegie Hall, New York, as part of Scottish Week in 2019. From time to time I contribute to newspapers such as The Scotsman. I am a regular participant in TV and radio documentaries, including 'The Hector' (BBC Scotland TV, 2017) and I was programme consultant and an interviewee for 'Homes Fit for Heroes?', the second programme in the three-part TV series 'Scotland: The Promised Land (BBC Scotland, 2016). I have appeared on the Radio 4 programmes, Woman's Hour, Making History, and In Our Time and on a number of Radio Scotland programmes.
I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. In 2018 I won the University of Aberdeen's Excellence in Teaching Award for Postgraduate Teaching in Arts, Social Science and Business. In 2019 I won the University of Aberdeen's Main Prize for Public Engagement with Research. In 2020 I was awarded the Royal Historical Society's Jinty Nelson Prize for Inspirational Teaching and Supervision.