Staff Spotlight: Dr Amy Blakeway

Blog written by Dr Amy Blakeway. Dr Blakeway is a lecturer in Scottish History with interests in political history broadly defined, ranging from Parliament and the Privy Council to propaganda and poetry, and in Scotland’s relations with England and France. 

I joined St Andrews in January 2019 from the University of Kent. Before that I had a postdoctoral (Junior Research) Fellowship in Cambridge, before that I was the Fulbright-Robertson Visiting Professor in Westminster College, Missouri, and before that I did my PhD (also at Cambridge). Throughout all of this I visited Scotland and St Andrews regularly for research, and I was thrilled to be able to come here permanently! 

My research focuses on sixteenth-century Scotland. My first book was on Regency in the sixteenth century, offering a revisionist account of how the Scots adjusted their political systems to adapt to successive royal minorities in the period. I am in the process of making final revisions to my second book, on the parliaments of James V, and looking forward to getting stuck into my next one, which will focus on the Anglo-Scottish wars of the 1540s. This probably makes it clear I’m a political historian, interested in power structures and the institutions through which these were mediated, but I’m also very interested in propaganda and persuasion— soft power, if you like— and how this played a central role in political life in sixteenth-century Scotland.  

Bramble the dog

Like most historians, I think the most interesting thing about me by a country mile is my work: how can ANYONE hope to beat the fat parrots, misbehaving dogs, drunk women making incisive political commentary in taverns and snappy sarcastic comments from ambassadors which make up my primary source material? However, obviously sometimes my eyes do get tired from the palaeography and I do other, less interesting, things. I don’t play sport (except the team games of ‘eat all the scones’ and ‘drink all the tea’, at which I have probably achieved an international standard), but I do enjoy walking and have recently started learning a bit about foraging (berries to put into aforementioned scones are always a bonus to a walk!), as well as gardening (though frankly this is a bit of a fail, I grew a single tomato this year, which stayed green and hard as a bullet). My companion in these ventures is Bramble, our black Labrador. We got her just before lockdown and she’s currently in her teenage rebellion phase— her recent burglaries include a thermometer, the TV remote and a whole block of cheese, all of which she ‘explored’ with her mouth, provoking various degrees of anxiety on discovery! When things get a bit safer I hope she can come to St Andrews and join me on the beach for walks with my students. She will need to curtail her penchant for petty theft first— even though I think she’s cute enough to get away with almost anything!   

Disability History Month 2020

Image: UK Disability History Month logo. UKDHM explains the logo design on its website as follows: “The Black Triangle. […] Disabled people were forced to wear this symbol by the Nazis during the ‘T4′ Eugenics Programme; which was intended to eliminate them. Between 250,000–1 million were murdered by the Nazis’ false hopes of building a ‘master race’. The UKDHM Logo has taken this symbol, and in reclaiming our history we have inverted it.”

Today marks the start of Disability History Month, which runs from 18th November to 20th December. This year’s theme focusses attention on issues of access from an historical perspective.  The UK Disability History Month organisation have produced a fascinating broadsheet asking ‘How far have we come?’ and ‘How far have we to go?’ in relation to access. It demonstrates how the activism of disabled people over past centuries led to the inclusion of accessibility as a UN recognised international human right in 2008, as well as the development over time of mobility aids, for example wheelchairs in 6th century BC China and 16th century Spain, of sign languages, hearing aids and of braille.

To mark Disability History Month, staff in the School of History will put together a reading list of key texts connected to histories of disabilities in the times and places we research and teach. Our intention is to create a resource that amplifies the important historical research being undertaken in this field and continually revise and update it. We also intend to create a resource that will have a tangible and lasting impact on teaching in the School and University, in that where possible, we will endeavour to purchase books on the list that are not currently held in our library, thereby improving the university’s holdings in the histories of disability and of people with disabilities.  If you would like to suggest any works that you think are ‘essential reading’ in this field, please email Dr Kate Ferris (histedi) with your suggestions.

We also hope to publish a number of blog posts produced by students and staff in the School relating to diverse aspects of disabilities history over the course of the coming month, so please look out for these.

Postgrad Spotlight: Sofya Anisimova

Blog written by Sofya Anisimova. Sofya is a second year PhD student in School of History and International Relations. Her research focuses on Russia’s Military Strategy and the Entente in the First World War.

Sofya was born in northern Moscow and grew up in an area next to a park that used to be the largest First World War military cemetery in Russia destroyed in the 1930s. However, even though she was raised right nearby, she did not know anything about the cemetery until she went to university. The First World War was not a very popular topic in Russia and was not studied in school in detail, but the lack of attention to the 1914-1918 conflict in Russian memory only spurred Sofya’s interest and was one of the reasons she decided to pursue a career as a professional researcher.

The specific topic that drew her attention to the First World War was the Russian Expeditionary Force (REF): in 1916 some 40,000 Russian soldiers were sent to fight in France and Macedonia, many of whom did not return to Russia until the 1920s. Their story fascinated her so much that she decided to switch her research field from politics, which she was studying at the Higher School of Economics, to military history. Upon graduation in 2016 she enrolled in the ‘History of War’ MA program at King’s College London before eventually coming to St Andrews for a postgraduate research degree in 2019.

Sofya’s postgraduate research looks into Russian military strategy and the Entente in 1914-1917 and benefits from the supervision of Professor Hew Strachan. The First World War was the war of coalitions: the Entente and the Central Powers. Members of these coalitions faced a similar ‘strategic paradox’ of whether to pursue their own strategy or stay loyal to the coalition cause. Sofya examines how this ‘strategic paradox’ affected Russian military strategic planning in the Great War. Her research requires working in archives in the UK, France and Russia, so she is spending this academic year away from St Andrews collecting primary sources.

At the same time, she has not abandoned her passion for the Russian Expeditionary Force and continues to work on the REF memory and veterans in Russia and in France as a side project. Some results of her research on the topic were published this year in the First World War Studies Journal. As for non-academic activities, in the pre-COVID world Sofya was an enthusiastic rugby player and was hoping to become a rugby referee, a goal she hopes to achieve as soon as the players are allowed back on the pitch.

Sofya runs a twitter account in English (@SofyaDAnisimova) and a telegram-channel in Russian ( dedicated to the Great War and her research.

Indian Women and Global Narratives of Human Rights

Blog written by Dr Rosalind Parr. Dr Parr is Lecturer in Modern History at the University of St Andrews where she teaches modules on South Asian and Global History. Her first monograph, Citizens of Everywhere. Indian women, anti-colonialism and global liberalism, 1920s – 1950s, will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2021.

Dr Rosalind Parr

In December 2018, the United Nations (UN) launched a new exhibition at its headquarters in New York to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  Amongst the personalities to appear was Hansa Mehta, an anti-colonial activist and leader of the Indian women’s movement.  In the past, official UN celebrations of the UDHR maintained a fixed focus on the figure of Eleanor Roosevelt, the first Chair of the Commission of Human Rights.  The current UN narrative is somewhat more inclusive. Alongside the exhibition in New York, the UN’s digital content now name-checks a wider cast of characters drawn from Asia, Latin America and elsewhere.  Strikingly, the focus is overwhelmingly on women.

The UN’s current emphasis on the role of non-Western women in shaping its early history is no accident.  The field of gender equality is perhaps the area of UN work where the spectre of cultural imperialism looms largest.  Sensitive to the charge of imposing Euro-American values on the Global South, the organisation is on a mission to emphasise its diverse past. By highlighting the contribution made by Hansa Mehta and others to the authoring of human rights, the UN seeks to uphold an alternative, universalist imagining of gender equality. 

HM UN: Hansa Mehta on the Commission for Human Rights.

The UN’s universalist claims have long been critiqued as neo-liberal cover for latter-day Western imperialism. When viewed from this angle, its appropriation of women from the Global South as historical human rights ambassadors appears tokenistic, if not misleading. 

No doubt the UN’s celebration of Mehta’s historical role derives from a present-day universalist agenda. Yet her interactions with the UN reflect a real and long-term engagement by Indian women activists with international networks dating back several decades. Far from representing a homogenous globalism, Mehta’s work at the UN reflects a distinct strand of anti-colonial women’s activism rooted in the conditions of India.

The UN’s communications are right to identify the role played by Mehta in shaping the UDHR. However, in presenting this as part of a universal narrative, it flattens out the particular processes by which she and others came to be part of this history.  It also overlooks the specificity of Indian women’s approach to rights which evolved in the context of women’s struggles in Indian.  This included a distinct perspective that pursued women’s rights against the claims of traditional customs and orthodox religious communities.

The ‘local’ Indian context underpinned women’s international activities, which I examine in my forthcoming book, Citizens of Everywhere. Indian women, anti-colonialism and global liberalism, 1920s – 1950s. Culminating with Mehta’s contribution to the drafting of the UDHR after Indian independence, the book begins over half a century earlier. In 1895, the future poet and Indian nationalist leader, Sarojini Naidu (1889-1949) boarded a boat bound for Europe. Naidu, unusually for a woman, was sent as a teenager to complete her education in Britain.  Although she quickly abandoned her studies in favour of literary pursuits, her time in London brought her contacts that would later facilitate her international career.

As the first Indian woman President of the Indian National Congress, Naidu is credited with inspiring the generation of women who came of age in the 1920s. Hailing from a learned Bengali family, she was a link between the emerging women’s movement and long-standing Indian traditions of social reform and cultural revivalism. In practical terms, her engagement with international women’s conferences and liberal networks in America established new forms of political practice for internationally focussed Indian women. Hansa Mehta, then a student in her twenties, was present when Naidu addressed a meeting of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Geneva in 1920. 

Berlin 1929: Sarojini Naidu at the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship in Berlin, 1929.

Naidu’s engagement with Western feminists who were accustomed to assuming leadership over non-Western women delivered an assertive anti-colonial challenge. Such transnational dialogue between Indian women and feminist networks (see also the International Alliance of Women for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship, pictured) would become an important means through which nationalist grievances caught global attention.  

By the 1930s, the Indian women’s movement was more wide-ranging and better organised. A concerted nation-wide campaign against child marriage had established women’s organisations as the agenda-setters on the women’s question in India. Meanwhile, a new Indian campaign for women’s suffrage after 1931 demanded a universal adult franchise.  This was far in excess of what the colonial state was willing to offer and went beyond the gradualist demands supported by the majority of British feminists. Yet Indian women’s campaigning on the issue in Britain enabled them to establish alliances with organisations that supported their claims.  These connections would help facilitate Indian women’s subsequent interactions with the League of Nations.

In September 1933, a delegation of Indian women visited Geneva.  Its purported aim was to secure formal representation for Indian women’s organisations on the social committees of the League of Nations.  Because the India Office in London controlled such appointments, this attempt by nationalist activists to bypass the imperial machine was destined to fail. But the campaign in Geneva enabled women activists to establish their legitimacy in international circles. In 1937, the All-India Women’s Conference became the only non-Western organisation to be listed as a Correspondent Member of the League of Nations Social Section. This international recognition cleared a path for Indian women’s appointments at the UN after independence.

Women’s movements in India have long been associated with unwanted Western intrusion. Yet a well-established strand of scholarship suggests this accusation all too readily assigns the provenance of ideas about women’s rights to the West. On the one hand, gender histories have highlighted the complicity of colonialism in the creation of patriarchal structures. On the other, they have pointed to the agency of Indian women in authoring liberal discourses.[1]   

My research highlights the ways that this creative authoring of ideas impacted on global conversations about rights.  These processes did not prevent the postcolonial calibration of global inequalities that all too closely resemble the racial hierarchies of European imperialism.  Nor did they avert the deployment of human rights in the service of neo-imperialistic ventures. Nevertheless, by emphasising a specific engagement with globally-circulating ideas they challenge us to resist the easy conflation of women’s rights with the politics of Western intrusion.

[1] See, for example, Mrinalini Sinha, Specters of Mother India. The Global Restructuring of an Empire (Duke University Press, 2006).

‘The Bubble’: St Andrews, Fife, and Scottish links to Slavery

The Spence Project is a new undergraduate-led research initiative which seeks to uncover St Andrews’, Fife’s, and Scotland’s links to slavery. We are made up of six fourth-years from the Schools of History, Philosophy, International Relations, and Economics. We founded the project early in the summer of 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter brought questions about race and oppression to the forefront of public discourse, and we wanted to contribute meaningfully to conversations that were happening. We felt that we could do this best by addressing these questions raised by Black Lives Matter in the context of academia, something that we are all familiar with as University students. Specifically, it had not gone unnoticed to us that although a number of British and American universities have been investigating their historic ties to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, St Andrews was not amongst them. We felt that the renewed interest in issues of injustice generated by Black Lives Matter presented a unique opportunity to redress this imbalance.

With the use of digitized public archives, academic articles, and an untold number of books we can say without a shadow of a doubt that St Andrews—both town and University— had connections to the Slave Trade. In 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act freed hundreds of thousands of enslaved people across the British Empire and compensated slave-owners for the loss of their property. That same year, the British government spent £20 million pounds, then approximately 40% of the state’s total annual expenditure, to fund the Act.  According to a 2018 Freedom of Information request made to the government, this debt was not repaid until 2015. The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at University College London maintains a database through which one can find the names and addresses of those who were compensated by the 1833 Act. Owing to the current closure of archives, we used this database as a starting point for our research.

Photo credit: Cathedral West End, St. Andrews, Cathedral East End Original engraving, engraved by W. H. Lizars after W. Banks. 1850. British Library

It was through this database that we learned about John Whyte Melville, who appears as a beneficiary of the 1833 Act. Melville owed much of his wealth to a relative named General Robert Melville, a cousin of his father and a colonial administrator. In his lifetime General Melville owned a number of plantations such as Melville Hall in Dominica and Carnbee in Tobago. In his lifetime General Melville was the governor of Grenada, the Grenadines, Dominica, St Vincent and Tobago. The general was an influential colonial administrator, responsible for the colonization of most of the British West Indies – paving the way for the exploitation of the island’s inhabitants. Melville inherited and managed General Melville’s ‘Melville Hall’ estate in Jamaica, and its enslaved people, from 1818 to 1834. The physical legacy of the Melville family and by extension, the slave trade, marks the town; with their money, the Melvilles constructed fountains, landscaped estates, and more in and around St Andrews. These structures still exist and are maintained today, inherited by various businesses and groups in Fife, including the University of St Andrews’ Court, yet their connections to the Melvilles is little-spoken about. The story of the Melvilles is but one of many which exemplifies how covert, yet pervasive, links to slavery can be in any place.

Aside from emphasising these difficult histories, we also wanted to bring to light more uplifting stories in the community. In our research, we also learned that there was local support for abolitionism. After reading an article published by Professor Julia Prest (St Andrews), we learned about the story of David Spence/Spens, whom our project is named after, and how the people of Fife supported him in his petition to gain his freedom. Spence, whose birth name was Manasela Embenka, was purchased for £30 in Grenada by a Scotsman named Dr David Dalrymple. In 1768, owing to illness, Dalrymple returned to his home in Fife, bringing Embenka back with him. In Fife, Embenka acquired the new name of ‘David Spence’ and was baptized by Harry Spens, the minister of a local church in Wemyss in 1769. Subsequently, it was on the basis of his baptism that Spence argued in the Edinburgh Courts that he was now ‘by the Christian Religion Liberate … set at freedom from my old yoke bondage & slavery’. Unsurprisingly, Dalrymple was unhappy with this and lodged a case to ensure Spence’s continued servitude.

News of Spence’s story quickly travelled round the village of Wemyss. Days later, through an act of compassion and brotherhood, the miners and families of East Wemyss, bonded slaves to the land until 1799, quickly organised a collection of money to pay for lawyers in the hope of freeing him. Yet before the courts could rule on the matter, Dalrymple died, and with no master to sue for Spence’s continued enslavement he finally became free. He eventually settled down, married, and had a family in or around the East Fife area. In 1780, the minister Harry Spens was made a professor of Divinity at the University of St Andrews. He was later twice elected as Rector. Overall, the solidarity surrounding Spence’s case was inspiring to us, and it was surprising to hear that barely anyone knew about his story. In light of this gap-in-the-knowledge, we thus want to use the project as a platform to raise awareness of Spence’s story and the Fife community’s history of supporting people in the face of oppression. By doing so, we hope that we’ll motivate people to take action against injustices they see in their own lives.

Researching the links between slavery and St Andrews has been an arduous and, occasionally, an emotionally-taxing ordeal. Nevertheless, this project has also been greatly rewarding. We’ve honed our research skills, to be sure; but apart from this, managing the project has often involved regular contact with various university academics and administrators in several countries. Working on The Spence Project has given all of us a much deeper insight into the workings of academia and research more generally. Whether we’re delving into digitised archives, parsing old dissertations and manuscripts, or rifling through massive databases, our time on the project has allowed us to grow as scholars above and beyond what we’ve already gained from our academic coursework.

Moreover, starting The Spence Project has given us a platform to address the idea of ‘public history’, and more specifically the question of how we ought to teach history. After all, what is the point of writing history if nobody engages with or learns from it? This issue proved to be especially salient for our project as slavery and oppression are topical and important subjects that must be done justice. Because of its importance, we quickly recognised the need to do more than just write papers and articles about Scottish links to slavery. We needed to innovate and change the ways in which we communicated and broke down abstract ideas to non-historians. Only by doing this could we get as many people thinking about the research we were conducting and thus make an impact.

The challenge of communicating history in innovative and engaging ways is one that we are still grappling with today. We’re beginning, therefore, with a staple of academia — a panel discussion group. But we hope that once the project continues and more people get involved with it, we can all pool our collective imagination and achieve some really interesting things. Between the six of us, we floated around ideas of creating a walking tour of St Andrews, highlighting different places and people that had links to slavery in the town. We also considered creating a pop-up exhibition, perhaps in collaboration with Scottish artists. Nevertheless, as fourth years we understand that time is running out for us; our time in St Andrews has almost drawn to an end, and that limits what we can actually achieve in a normal year, let alone in the current, highly-limiting circumstances. But this time constraint shouldn’t stop us from thinking big. Indeed, it might even be better to be overambitious to set a precedent for future years and to give younger students ideas to work with when they take over the project. Overall, the issue of how we ought to communicate history to the wider public made us rethink the ways in which we talk about the discipline. In turn, this has led us to think of some really interesting ideas for the project. These are ideas that, even if we don’t get round to doing them this year, provide future members—and hopefully historians—with ample food for thought.

The Spence Project members, clockwise from top left: Manhattan Murphy-Brown, Charmaine Au-Yeung, William Zhang, Joe Ehrlich, Dylan Springer, Luke Simboli.

Thus, in the short time that we’ve spent working on the Project, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned more about St Andrews, Fife, and Scotland and their position within the global slave trade, and we’ve also learned a lot about doing history. In particular, it has taught us that researching history sometimes means uncovering, discussing, and analysing dark and uncomfortable truths. We encourage those reading this blog and following our research journey to look at St Andrews and/or their homes in new ways. While it may be difficult, we hope that the reader of this blog can join us in our journey of reconciliation and learning. In fact, our aim is not to paint a portrait in black and white: we also hope, as the extraordinary narrative of David Spence demonstrates, to bring to light stories which uplift and inspire. Over and above this, it’s vitally important that we, as students, staff members, or residents of St Andrews, understand the myriad ways that our home is connected to the wider world.

Finally, special thanks are due to Dr Emma Hart, Dr Bernhard Struck, Dr Kate Ferris, Dr Milinda Banerjee, Dr Akhila Yechury, Dr Katie Stevenson, and Dr Ian Smith for guiding us through the process of creating a research initiative. Without their help and support, there is no way that The Spence Project would be where it currently is. As undergraduates, the process of starting up a research initiative from scratch was daunting. Overall, we hope that The Spence Project continues its work after we’ve all graduated, and that it encourages other undergraduates who may be interested in starting up their own research initiatives to do so.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Jacob Baxter

Jacob Baxter is a first-year PhD student. His research focuses on the literary life and afterlife of the diplomat Sir William Temple.

Jacob grew up in Sunderland in the North East of England. During his childhood, there were three important factors that directed him towards studying the past. First, was the vibrant history of his local area, from the Venerable Bede, to the experiences of his Gran and Auntie in the Second World War. Second, were the Horrible History books by local author Terry Deary. Third, and arguably most importantly of all, was the passion and enthusiasm of his history teachers especially Mr Crowe at Whitburn Church of England Academy and Mr Tilbrook at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle.

Jacob arrived at St Andrews in September 2015 to begin a degree in History. In essence, he has never left. He completed his undergraduate in June 2019, achieving a first. His dissertation, on crowdsourcing in seventeenth-century Dutch newspapers, was awarded the Alan Robertson Memorial Prize. A few months after finishing his undergraduate degree, Jacob returned to St Andrews to start an MLitt in Book History. He wrapped this up in August 2020, achieving a distinction. Jacob began his PhD a few weeks later under the supervision of Professor Andrew Pettegree and Dr Arthur der Weduwen.

Sir William Temple

In his PhD, Jacob is focusing on the literary life and afterlife of the diplomat Sir William Temple. Temple is best known for his authorship of the Observations Upon the United Provinces (1673). This book remains one of the most important texts in the study of the Dutch Golden Age today. Its sharp and discerning insights were shaped by Temple’s time in the Dutch Republic as a diplomat. Still, what has been largely overlooked is the fact that this book was only one component of a much larger literary oeuvre. As an author, Temple engaged with a variety of different genre, from horticulture and history, to medicine and memoire. During his lifetime, he attracted a truly continental audience and his work was published in London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris, and Nurnberg. Jacob is exploring how Temple collaborated with the print industry, the contexts behind his publications, and the decline of his posthumous reputation.

Alongside his PhD, Jacob is an associate of the Universal Short Title Catalogue. Jacob first began working with the project in June 2019, when he attended their summer programme. He has helped to augment the USTC’s coverage of the Dutch Republic and Hungary, and he also edits the Preserving the World’s Rarest Books Blog. Jacob also works part time as a bookseller at Topping and Company St Andrews. He often finds that his experiences in the book trade today regularly shape and inform his work.

When he is not studying or selling books, Jacob can usually be found on the tennis court. Ironically enough, William Temple, whilst he was at Cambridge University, allegedly spent more time on playing tennis than he did studying, an example that Jacob is not trying to follow. Jacob also enjoys playing the violin and watching football. Before coming to St Andrews, he was a season ticket holder at Sunderland AFC for ten years. He still considers the first 60 minutes of the 2014 League Cup final, when he watched Sunderland take the lead against Manchester City at Wembley, to be one of the best hours of his life (Sunderland ended up losing the match 3-1). Sadly, whilst Jacob has been working his way up through university education, Sunderland have gone in the opposite direction, falling from the Premier League to the third tier of English football in just over two years. He hopes that this divergence in fortune will soon end with both parties heading upward. 

PhD Induction Day 2020

Blog written by Pilar Requejo De Lamo. Pilar is currently a second-year PhD student. Her work focuses on early Esperanto communities in 20th-century Spain.

Author Pilar Requejo De Lamo

On Friday, October 2nd the School of History welcomed a new cohort of PhD and MSt(Res) students. The current special circumstances obliged us to hold an online meeting instead of gathering at the Rufflets Hotel like last year, yet this did not keep us from enjoying each other’s company even if we were in different time zones. Whether they were in Scotland, Germany, or the United States, our new researchers were invited to spend the day familiarizing themselves with St Andrews and getting to know each other.

After a short introduction, the new students were divided into small groups and given the opportunity to introduce themselves and their areas of research before listening to Dr Jacqueline Rose, Director of Research Postgraduates, and Elsie Johnstone, Postgraduate Secretary, explain the details of what they can expect from their time at St Andrews.

The talk was followed by a presentation on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Lenna Cumberbatch, Equality and Diversity Awards Adviser, and Dr Kate Ferris, chair of the School of History Equality & Diversity Committee, discussed the importance of creating an inclusive and safe environment for everyone and encouraged us to reflect on the ways in which every single one of us can contribute to the cause. Although Lenna could not share any delicious gummy bears with us to stimulate the discussion this year (which have become a very well-loved part of our inductions), the students were eager to participate.

Afterwards, we had a break to grab some lunch (more like breakfast or even dinner for some!) before reconvening to talk about what becoming a researcher entails. Dr Jacqueline Rose outlined the objectives, forms, and stages of the process, and then we split into groups once again to discuss our expectations, anxieties, and ideas about conducting research. The students acknowledged that being a PhD student (or a MSt(Res) one!) is not only about writing a thesis, but also about finding opportunities to participate in conferences and publishing papers while developing skills that may not be directly related to their work.

St Mary’s Quad, St Andrews, South Street.

Beyond the thesis, finding the right balance between work and personal life now that many of us will be working from home was one of our main concerns. It was agreed that spending some time away from the screen and going for walks or runs were the best way to prevent burnout, but also keeping in mind that the world is not going to end if we do not immediately reply to an e-mail! The students also shared what skills they were looking forward to acquiring during their time at St Andrews, being digital skills and languages the most popular ones.

The event concluded with a warm farewell from Dr Jacqueline Rose and in hopes of meeting face-to-face sometime in the near future.

Alumni Update: Dr Lizzie Swarbrick

This piece is part of our 2020 Alumni Magazine. The magazine pieces for this year’s edition will be published online, as well as included in a combined 2020/21 printed volume next summer.

Blog written by Dr Lizzie Swarbrick. Dr Swarbrick completed her PhD at St Andrews in 2017 and is now a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh.

Well, suffice to say that 2020 has been Not Good. We’ve each had to sit with the headlines every morning, working out on our own personal scales how traumatic the news is today, and what we might subsequently expect from our levels of concentration and hope. The majority of my colleagues in academia have been at full tilt, working out how to manage teaching during a global pandemic. All the normal rituals of summer – research visits, conferences, perhaps even a holiday – were cancelled. Of course, the people this hits hardest are those on precarious contracts, staff who are carers, and individuals vulnerable to Covid19. It’s as if we are all just a little out of our depth whilst swimming on East Sands; our tiptoes grazing the sea floor, our noses just above the water. For some the sea is rougher than others.

 I have to admit that, for me, whilst the sea is painfully cold, it’s also largely calm. My postdoctoral research position as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow means I’m protected from a great deal of the tumult. It has been profoundly odd to research in this environment though. My particular work is focussed on the complicated ways Scottish medieval church architecture – and all the multi-media art forms it once contained – moved audiences, both physically and spiritually. It’s near-impossible to get a sense of the kinetic experience of space somewhere, when you can’t actually inhabit it. For months I’ve been an architectural historian with no buildings.

Orphir, taken on one of Dr Swarbrick’s recent research trips. Credit: Lizzie Swarbrick

It’s the end of September and I’ve just come back back from finally experiencing some art ‘in the flesh’ once more. Lugging my research kit (camera, zoom lens, binoculars, head torch, os maps, pencils, paper, mask, anti-bac) to Bristol, London, Aberdeen, and Orkney. I’m used to sombre atmospheres in medieval churches, but this is definitely heightened by being masked-up in near-deserted interiors. That said, I did get that rush of wonder I’d been hoping for on Orkney. Clambering over medieval vaults never gets old, and being able to roam around St Magnus cathedral was spectacular. Perhaps most moving was the c.1100 round church at Orphir, built under the patronage of Earl Haakon Paulsson (killer of St Magnus) after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I’d been in the (much flashier) Temple church in London just a week earlier, but walking solo along a country lane to the bay where Orphir church stands felt free. I picked up a homemade chocolate cookie from a socially-distanced ‘honesty bun box’ and, after, dipped my hands in the waters of Scapa Flow. It was a remote spot for me. Remote from my university in Edinburgh, my family in Oxford, and even more so from the Holy Sepulchre which inspired this church’s architecture. And yet, the building here shows that this place was connected in the Middle Ages, and it’s certainly still connected now. I just hope that I can manage to feel similarly connected, however much I have to work remotely.

Celebrating Black History Month 2020

Black History Month logo from

Today is the first day of Black History Month.  This year, of course, our events to mark Black and African diaspora histories are all moving online, and will take place via Teams.  We still have a great deal going on, combining student- and staff-led initiatives with talks by expert academics from outside St Andrews.

Our various research seminar programmes include several speakers in October presenting topics that intersect with Black histories:

On Monday 5th October, 4-5pm, Dr Peggy Brunache (University of Glasgow) will speak at the modern history seminar on the topic of ‘Slavery and resistance in the French Antilles’.

On Monday 12th October, 7pm, Dr Giovanni Ruffini (Fairfield University) will be hosted by SAIMS, speaking on the topic of ‘Rethinking Medieval Nubia’.

On Monday 26th October, 4-5pm Professor Trevor Burnard (Director of the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull) will speak at the modern history seminar on the topic of Hearing enslaved women: tales of labour and family from slave testimony in Berbice, 1819-1833’.

If you would like to attend any of these seminars, please get in touch with Dr Kate Ferris for the modern history seminars and Dr Alex Woolf for the SAIMS seminar, to be sent the Teams link.

In addition, our Annual Lecture in the History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, which has been rescheduled from its original date in the Spring, to Wednesday 14th October, 4pm, will be:

Professor Diana Paton (Robertson Professor of Modern History, University of Edinburgh) ‘Gender History, Global History, and Atlantic Slavery’

All are very welcome! Please look out for the Teams Live Event link which will be circulated via email, blog, and twitter closer to the time.

Finally, on 28th October at 4pm the student-led Spence Project will hold a discussion-based event about the connections between Fife, St Andrews – the university and town – and slavery. The Spence Project are a group of students who have been investigating the links between St Andrews and slavery, including the slave trade, the use of enslaved labour, and the business of slavery. They have made several important discoveries and have lots of exciting plans afoot. This event will uncover some of their findings and discuss future activities, including forms of ‘public history’ work in this field.  Please look out for further details and the Teams link for this event, which will be circulated closer to the time.

As those of you who are not newcomers to the School may remember, for the past three years one of the ways we have marked Black History Month is by continually building a reading list of ‘essential texts’ on African and African Diaspora (including Black British, African American, and Afro European) histories. By its nature, we acknowledge that the reading list will always be a ‘work in progress’, requiring revising and updating as time goes on. Each year, many staff members pledge portions of their library allowance to buy books on the list that are not yet held by the library, thereby augmenting the library’s holdings in their fields in order to facilitate further research and learning. We invite all students and staff to look through the reading list again this year and let us know if there’s anything that you think should be there.  Please email any suggestions to Dr Kate Ferris (histedi@) by the end of the month. We’ll add these to the reading list and, as and when we are able to make normal library purchases again, we’ll do our best to purchase any works that are not already in the library’s collections. In this way, we’re pledging to making a tangible and lasting difference to the university’s holdings in the fields of Black and African diaspora histories that will help inform our research and teaching for the years to come.

Miniatures: New Podcast from the Everyday Dictatorship Project

Blog written by Dr Huw Halstead. Dr Halstead is a Research Fellow on the ERC-funded project ‘Dictatorship as experience: a comparative history of everyday life and the ‘lived experience’ of dictatorship in Mediterranean Europe (1922-1975)’ led by Dr Kate Ferris.

What can we learn from a headstrong donkey determined to deposit its rider into a large ditch, a First World War soldier refusing his corporal’s order to fetch coffee for the company, or a long dead scribe’s doodle of a labyrinth on a clay tablet? In the new Miniatures podcast, Dr Kate Ferris and I answer these and other questions, demonstrating that the big picture in history is best seen through the assemblage of individual and local stories.

We owe the name of our podcast to the late German historian Alf Lüdtke, who encouraged historians of everyday life to assemble collages of ‘miniatures’ – detailed investigations of localised individual situations – as a means of exposing the depth, density, and complexity of historical experience. We take up Lüdtke’s challenge, featuring discussions with archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians about the texture and richness of individual episodes, people and objects.

In season 1 of Miniatures, comprising six episodes, our journey takes us from Bolton in Britain to the shores of the Mediterranean, from the histories of dictatorship and war to those of race and postcolonialism. We will hear from agony aunts and their readers, soldiers at military tribunals, targets of state surveillance, memory activists, and oral history interviewees. We will listen to stories ranging from the amusing – such as the man who would not sell his ox when he discovered the buyer was not a smoker – to the tragic – as in the case of the inexperienced Algerian soldier who accidentally shot and killed his comrade.

The histories discussed on Miniatures raise issues of significant contemporary relevance, including the expression of emotions through digital technology, bullying and sexuality in schools, the notion of ‘ordinary people’ in the current political climate, and how the heritage work of past regimes structures the experiences of today’s tourists.

View of a neighborhood in Malaga, Spain in 1959. What could this miniature scene tell us about history? Credit: Verdugo y Arranz, Biblioteca de la Facultad de Empresa y Gestión Pública (Universidad de Zaragoza)

In the first two episodes of the podcast, Dr Kate Ferris and I are joined by all of our guests from season 1 to explore what ‘everyday life’ actually is and to unpick some of our guests’ favourite miniatures. The following episodes include discussions on British emotions and happiness with Prof Claire Langhamer (University of Sussex), Italian Fascist archaeology and the fall of Mussolini with Dr Joshua Arthurs (West Virginia University), youth culture and sexuality in Greece with Dr Nikos Papadogiannis (Bangor University), and postcolonial migrants and Algerian soldiers in the First World War with Dr Claire Eldridge (University of Leeds).

Episode 1 releases at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday 23 September 2020. The rest of season 1 will follow over the next five weeks with new episodes every Wednesday. To listen, visit or