Publication Spotlight: A Companion to Religious Minorities in Early Modern Rome

Blog written by Dr Emily Michelson. Dr Michelson is a Senior Lecturer in the School of History, and her work focuses on the cultural and religious history of early modern Italy. She worked on the ‘Religious Minorities in Early Modern Rome’ project (2018) with postdoctoral researcher Dr Matthew Coneys Wainwright. His research deals with late medieval and early modern Italian pilgrimage culture, travel writing and the history of the book between manuscript and print. He currently teaches at the University of Oxford and the Warburg Institute.

Dr Emily Michelson

We are really excited about A Companion to Religious Minorities in Early Modern Rome, which is the product of an AHRC early-career leadership grant: Dr Emily Michelson was the grant-holder and Dr Matthew Coneys Wainwright the stellar postdoc. The papers were developed in two workshops, one held at St Andrews and the other at the British School of Rome, with other scholars joining the project later. 

The project itself is exciting because it dismantles the assumption that Papal Rome was Catholic and homogenous in the early modern period.  The essays in our volume look at all of the different religious groups and individuals that passed through or lived in Rome and the many ways they made an impact.  

Dr Matthew Coneys Wainwright

We think this is an especially important project because the city of Rome has more layers of meaning than any other place in Europe. In the period this book covers, the Eternal City had a triple function. It provided Europe’s strongest link to the classical past and was revered as the gateway to antiquity. As the capital of the powerful Papal States, it was also a major political player. Above all, Rome was the religious heart of a growing, newly global Catholicism. Roman institutions and governments put a huge amount of effort into making their city seem pure, holy, and uniform. They wanted it to seem like a perfect model of Catholic piety as they set out to evangelize the entire known world. They would probably have hated what we’ve uncovered. 

One of the things that makes the book meaningful to us is that nobody could have written it alone – it relies on too many different and specific areas of expertise.   It discusses Ethiopian humanists, Eastern Orthodox pilgrims, enslaved Muslim galley workers, Jewish and formerly-Jewish scholars, Japanese and Persian ambassadors, Portuguese conversos, and European Protestants. Another thing we’re really pleased about is the range of scholars who contributed to this work. Our authors live or work in (if we’ve counted right) seven countries on three continents; some are junior scholars and others are very senior. Their approaches are very different: some analyse images, some do close textual readings, some crunch numbers. A few of them have also included valuable primary sources for future use. They were all deeply committed to the volume and we are impressed with their work. We’re especially pleased that almost every group discussed in the volume is the subject of more than one essay. It suggests that none of us has the final word, and that there’s far more left to study. We’ve also tried to allow for blurred boundaries as much as possible. People bore more than one identity and related to their backgrounds in complex ways, just as they do today.  We hope this shows that the volume is intended to start new and lasting conversations about religious encounters in the early modern world.

Autumn 2020 Roundup

Staff News

The Goethe Institute has awarded Frank Lorenz Müller a €4,500 grant to support the English translation of his book Die Thronfolger. Macht und Zukunft der Monarchie im 19. Jahrhundert (Munich, 2019). His book is scheduled for publication by Cambridge University Press in 2021.

On 18th November Aileen Fyfe gave her inaugural lecture, ‘Why do academics publish (the way that they do)?

News about the Donald Bullough Fellowship in Medieval History: due to circumstances brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, our Bullough Fellow for 2020-21, Sarah Hamilton (Exeter), will now take up her fellowship during the academic year 2021-22. As a result, the next call for applications to the Bullough Fellowship will be in Autumn 2021, for fellowships to be held in the academic year 2022-23.

Staff Activity

On 22 July, Raluca Roman gave a talk entitled ‘Traces of the past, visions of the future: the historical shaping of Roma mobilisation and the importance of context’ at the 2020 conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists.

On 23 July, Justine Firnhaber-Baker gave the talk ‘Teaching Medieval Revolts at a Time of Modern Uprising’ to Haskins Society Roundtable on Teaching Medieval History in 2020.

On 4th September Claudia Kreklau gave a kenote presentation at the virtual St Andrews conference Devouring Men: Food, Masculinity and Power, entitled ‘Otto von Bismarck’s Devouring Masculinity: Identity Shortcomings and Culinary Compensation of a Political Titan, 1815-1898’. On 24th October Dr Kreklau also spoke at Emory University’s virtual homecoming on ‘A Taste of Emory from Around the World’.

On 8th November Milinda Banerjee gave the talk  ‘Political Thought in Colonial Bengal: An Agenda for Intellectual History’, in a Webinar on ‘History of Modern Bengal’, organized by Subhas Chandra Bose Centenary College, Murshidabad (India).

On 13th November Rory Cox presented the paper ‘Ideas of Just War in Ancient Hittite and Israelite Sources’ at Casus Belli, Guerre Giuste: Indagini Sulla Necessità di un Casus Belli, University of Bologna.

On 14th November Chandrika Kaul was a participant and discussant in the television documentary ‘Lord Mountbatten: Hero or Villain?‘, Channel 5.


Banerjee, Milinda. ‘How “dynasty” became a modern global concept: Intellectual histories of sovereignty and property’, Global Intellectual History (2020).

— and Ilya Afanasyev. ‘The modern invention of “dynasty”: An introduction’, Global Intellectual History (2020).

Bates, C. Richard, Martin R. Bates, Barbara Crawford, Alexandra Sanmark and John Whittaker. ‘The Norse Waterways of West Mainland Orkney, Scotland’, Journal of Wetland Archaeology (2020).

Blakeway, Amy. ‘Religious Reform, the House of Guise and the Council of Fontainebleau: The French Memorial Service for Marie de Guise, August 1560’, Etudes Epistémè 37 (2020).

Eves, William. ‘Collusive Litigation in the Early Years of the English Common Law: The Use of Mort d’Ancestor for Conveyancing Purposes c. 1198-1230’, Journal of Legal History 31 (2020).

Ferris, Kate and Stella Moss, eds. ‘Alcohol Production and Consumption in Contemporary Europe: Identity, Practice, and Power Through WineContemporary European History 29:4, special issue (2020), pp. 373-379.

Firnhaber-Baker, Justine. ‘The Social Constituency of the Jacquerie Revolt of 1358’, Speculum, 95, no. 3 (2020): 689-715.

—. ‘Two Kinds of Freedom: Language and Practice in Late Medieval Rural Revolts’, Edad Media. Revista de Historia 21, special issue on freedom (2020), pp. 113-152.

Fischer, Conan. ‘Germany, Versailles, and the Limits of Nationhood’, in Aspects of British Policy and the Treatment of Versailles. Of War and Peace, edited by B.J.C. McKercher, Erik Goldstein, pp. 205-227. New York: Routledge, 2020.

Fyfe, Aileen. ‘The production, circulation, consumption and ownership of scientific knowledge: historical perspectives’, CREATe Working Paper (2020).

—. ‘The Royal Society and the Noncommercial Circulation of Knowledge’, in Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Open Access, edited by Martin Paul Eve and Jonathan Gray, pp. 147-160. The MIT Press, 2020.

Gielas, Anna. ‘Turning tradition into an instrument of research: The editorship of William Nicholson (1735-1815)’, Centaurus 62:1 (2020).

Greenwood, Tim. ‘Social Change in Eleventh-Century Armenia: the evidence from Tarōn’, in Social Change in Town and Country in Eleventh-Century Byzantium, edited by J.D. Howard-Johnston, pp. 196-219. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Hillenbrand, Carole. ‘Al-Ghazali and Sufism’, in The Routledge Handbook of Sufism, edited by Lloyd Ridgeon, pp. 63-75. Abingdon: Routledge, 2020.

—. ‘The sultan, the Kaiser, the colonel and the purloined wreath’, in The Making of Crusading Heroes and Villians: Engaging the Crusades, Volume Four, edited by Mike Horswell and Kristin Skottki, pp. 112-124. London and New York: Routledge, 2020.

—. ‘What is special about Seljuq history?’, in Court and Cosmos: The Great Age of the Seljuqs, edited by Sheila Canby, Deniz Beyazit and Martina Rugiadi, pp. 6-16. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020.

Jenkins, Bill. ‘Race before Darwin: Variation, adaptation and the natural history of man in post-Enlightenment Edinburgh, 1790-1835’, The British Journal for the History of Science (2020).

Kamusella, Tomasz. ‘Bullgaria bllokoi Maqedoninë e Veriut’. 30 November 2020.

—. ‘A Case of the Tail Wagging the Dog? Bulgaria, the EU and North Macedonia’. Democratization Policy Council. 6 December 2020.

—. ‘Çfarë shpreh dhe “fsheh” vetoja e Bullgarisë ndaj Maqedonisë së Veriut?’. Gazeta Telegraf. 26 November 2020.

—. ‘Çfarë synon Bullgaria, me bllokimin e Maqedonisë së Veriut ?!’. Pro Integra. 27 November 2020.

—. ‘Judeo-Christian Europe and Language Politics’, 13 October 2020.

—. ‘Liquidating a Language’,, 27 June 2020.

—. ‘Multicultural Opole? “Multilingualism” in an ethnolinguistic nation-state’, New Eastern Europe, 24 July 2020.

—. ‘Vetoja e Bullgarisë ndaj Maqedonisë së Veriut, një precedent i rrezikshëm’. Bota Sot. 27 November 2020.

—. ‘Yiddish, or Jewish German? The Holocaust, the Goethe-Institut and Germany’s Neglected Obligation to Peace and the Common Cultural Heritage’. 21 October 2020.

Kastritsis, Dimitri. ‘Tales of Viziers and Wine: Interpreting Early Ottoman Narratives of State Centralization’, in Trajectories of State Formation across Fifteenth-Century Islamic West-Asia: Eurasian Parallels, Connections and Divergences, edited by Jo Van Steenbergen, 224-254. Leiden: Brill, 2020.

MacLean, Simon. ‘The Edict of Pîtres, Carolingian Defence against the Vikings, and the Origins of the Medieval Castle’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 30 (2020).

Marinov, Aleksander. ‘Images of Roma through the Language of Bulgarian State Archives’, Social Inclusion 8:2 (2020).

Marushiakova-Popova, Elena and Veselin Popov. ‘Beginning of Roma Literature: The Case of Alexander Germano’, Romani Studies 30:2 (2020), pp. 135-162.

Murdoch, Steve and Kathrin Margarete Gertrud Zickermann. ‘Martha Stuart (1590-1670)’,  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 9 July 2020.

Murdoch, Steve. ‘Scottish Calvinists and Swedish Diplomacy, 1593-1632: the case of Sir James Spens of Wormiston’. In Confessional Diplomacy in Early Modern Europe, edited by Roberta Anderson and Charlotte Backerra. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2020.

Nott, James. Going to the Palais: A Social and Cultural History of Dancing and Dance Halls in Britain, 1918-1960. Oxford: OUP, 2020.

Palmer, James. ‘Apocalyptic Insiders? Apocalypse and Heresy in Carolingian-Iberian Relations’, in Cultures of Eschatology 1: Authority and Empire in Medieval Christian, Islam, and Buddhist Communities, edited by Veronika Wieser and Vincent Eltschinger, pp. 337-356. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2020.

Parr, Rosalind. ‘Solving World Problems: the Indian women’s movement, global governance, and “the crisis of empire”, 1933-46’, Journal of Global History 1:19 (2020).

Peacock, Andrew. ‘Remembering Turkish Origins in the Sixteenth- and Seventeenth- Century Deccan: The Qaraqoyunlu Past in the Persia Chronicles of the Qutbshahi Dynasty’, in Turkish History and Culture in India: Identity, Art and Transregional Connections, edited by Andrew Peacock and Richard Piran McClary, 152-199. Leiden: Brill, 2020.

Randjbar-Daemi, Siavush. ‘The Tudeh Party of Iran and the peasant question, 1941-53’, Middle Eastern Studies (2020).

Roman, Raluca. ‘Between (mis)recognition and belonging. Finnish Roma, migrant Roma and social outreach’, in Mobilising for mobile Roma: Solidarity activism in Helsinki in the 2000s-2010s, edited by Aino Saarinen, Airi Markkanen, and Anca Enache. Helsinki: Trialogue Books, 2020.

Rose, Jacqueline. ‘Dissent and the State: Persecution and Toleration’, in The Oxford History of Protestant Dissenting Traditions, vol. 1, edited by John Coffey, pp. 313-33. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Stella, Attilio. ‘Bringing the feudal law back home: social practice and the law of fiefs in Italy and Provence (1100-1250)’, Journal of Medieval History 46:3 (2020), pp. 396-418.

Struck, Bernhard. ‘Did Prussia have an Atlantic history? The partitions of Poland-Lithuania, the French colonization of Guiana, and climates in the Caribbean, c. 1760s-1780s’, in Globalized Peripheries: Central Europe and the Atlantic World, 1680-1860, edited by Jutta Wimmler and Klaus Weber. Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2020.

Thakkar, Mark. ‘Duces caecorum: On Two Recent Translations of Wyclif’, Vivarium 58:4 (2020), pp. 357-383.

Whatmore, Richard and Katrin Redfern. ‘History tells us that ideology “purity spirals” rarely end well’, The Conversation, 1 July 2020.

White, Sarah. ‘The Procedure and Practice of Witness Testimony in English Ecclesiastical Courts, c. 1193-1300’, Studies in Church History 56 (2020): 114-130.

Zahova, Sofiya. ‘“Improving Our Way of Life is Largely in Our Own Hands”: Inclusion According to the Romani Newspaper of Interwar Yugoslavia’, Social Inclusion 8:2 (2020), pp. 286-295.

Postgrad Spotlight: Elena Romero-Passerin D´Entreves

Blog written by Christin Simons. Christin is currently in the midst of finishing her PhD and writes here about fellow PhD student, Elena Romero-Passerin D’Entreves.

It would have been a challenge for Elena to avoid history, as she was not only born in Paris, near Montmartre, but also is the daughter of two historians. The path was set. In her undergraduate degree, she took a class on Medicine and Hygiene from 1750 to WWI, which introduced her to the history of hospitals and science. A previous visit to the botanic garden in Edinburgh had made a lasting impression, so Elena decided to research it as part of her master’s thesis subject, which then developed into an interest in researching and comparing gardens, especially in Europe. Elena started her ‘Grand Tour’ of studying in Paris at the Sorbonne, followed by an Erasmus year in Strathclyde to explore the archives, then crossed the ocean to spend a year at Amherst College, where she also found the time to teach French with a Fulbright scholarship. Instead of pursuing a career in medieval history, as she had initially planned at the beginning of her studies, Elena decided to come back to the UK and follow the path of botany. Elena was lucky to find two very enthusiastic and supportive supervisors in Dr Sara Easterby-Smith and Prof Aileen Fyfe who shared her passion for comparative studies of botanic gardens, and so she moved to St Andrews.

Her PhD is a comparative study of public botanic gardens in Scotland and Tuscany in the late eighteenth century. Instead of focusing on the plants or the science itself, she is interested in how botanical gardens worked as institutions and about their role in society. Her research demonstrates that gardens are interesting examples of the institutionalisation of science and research, as they have often been ignored in the historiography of science and they have some of the earliest examples of professional scientists (who were paid to do research) in Europe. Usually the institutionalisation and professionalisation of science are associated with the nineteenth century, but in addition to including some juicy history about plants like rhubarb and pineapples, Elena offers new ways of considering the approach of botanical gardens. She has been able to apply her research in a number of creative ways, including the development of the board game Merplantilism, together with the author of this blog piece, and an endeavour to link the Linnean system to the evolution of Pokemon!

When she is not spreading the pollen of knowledge regarding botanical gardens, Elena is involved with the PGR History Community by organising the EMMH, teaching numerous students or going to the cosy movie theatre in St Andrews. In the ʽGreat Beforeʼ, Elena’s free time was filled with travels to conferences, archives (especially in Tuscany), and socialising with friends and colleagues over a good dinner or board games. During the pandemic, she has worked on her baking and painting skills and the ability to power walk through Fife. With finishing her thesis in 2020 and reaping the fruit of her labour, Elena will miss the community of great colleagues who became dear friends and the chance to run into people on the small streets of St Andrews, but she is also ready to start a new successful chapter—maybe by finally studying medieval history…

Hunting Big Game: The Military Power of Louis XIV and the French Artillery and Arms Industries

Blog written by Professor Guy Rowlands. Prof Rowlands’ principal research interests lie in the history of war, in the emergence of the modern European state in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and the nature and development of international relations in the period 1598-1792.

Prof Guy Rowlands wearing a WWI French artillery uniform at the Artillery Museum in Provence.

If I can begin by sounding like Ernest Hemingway, I only hunt big game, and Louis XIV (r.1643-1715), whom I have been tracking for 28 years, is one of the biggest beasts in the historical jungle. But the thrill of the chase is far greater than the satisfaction of a kill, and of course in history nobody ever really has the last word. There’s never really an end to controversy about any given subject. Louis XIV has been pursued by myriad historians, especially in France, but also since the 1950s (in a serious fashion) in the U.K. and North America. His era is so rich in material reflecting the activities and ideas of the time it’s an almost inexhaustible seam for scholars to mine. The difficulty with such a familiar field, however, is making a difference, and after over half a century of monographs and doctorates on the reign, and in my case nearly thirty years of research on him, I am not altogether sure what difference I have made…

My starting point, from my final year as an undergraduate, was a deep scepticism about traditional French historiography—a kind of French ‘Whiggism’ that stressed the onward march of the impersonal, centralising state—and at least some cynicism about recent Anglo-American suggestions that Louis’ reign was founded upon consensus and cooperation with the elites. My interest in the armed forces of France then led me deep into the French war archives for my doctorate to examine the relationship between the king and the most senior and prestigious military officers in the second half of his personal rule, a period I have recently argued (with Julia Prest) constituted Louis XIV’s ‘third reign’ after c. 1682. After expanding the doctorate into a wider book on how the French army was transformed from a chaotic shambles in the 1650s to a much smoother and gigantic machine by the 1690s, I then found myself sucked into military finance and from there into the much wider problems of French state finances more generally in the 1690s and 1700s. While Britain remodelled its fiscal and credit machinery in the ‘financial revolution’, France—using some of the same tools—continued down a pathway of restricted taxation on the elites coupled with currency devaluation, illiquid financial instruments, and the use of military paymasters as the greatest creditors of the monarchy. This then led me onto a third book about the international bankers serving France during the War of the Spanish Succession, when vast amounts of state revenues, for eye-watering transaction costs, were sucked out of the country to fuel Louis XIV’s war efforts abroad. As Stanley Baldwin might have said in a later context, there seemed to be an awful lot of hard-faced men who looked like they had done well out of war at the end of Louis XIV’s reign.

A painting of the siege of Tournai from the 1740s showing the artillery in camp. Credit: Photo (C) Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Marc Manaï

All this adds up to a career thus far pursued in investigating what historians have come to call the ‘fiscal-military state’ in the early modern period (as opposed to the laissez-faire states of the Anglo-American world in the 1815-1914 period and the war and welfare states of the period c. 1914-89). Rarely, however, does a single book bring together equally deep treatment of both the fiscal and military halves of this model, indeed the number can really be counted on the fingers of one hand. But this is what I have now embarked on doing in a study based on 28 years of archival research that will examine the French land army’s artillery and armaments systems throughout the reign of Louis XIV. This book looks at its military structures and their relationship to the monarchy, the embryonic artillery corps and its officers, the gunpowder and weaponry contractors, the financiers dedicated to this arm, the transportation system for heavy weapons, and the logistical infrastructure. This will be the farthest plumbing of the depths yet achieved on the way the French monarchy’s military system worked, thanks to the richness of the administrative papers. As the artillery was headed by a Grand Master, this office’s documentation in the 1700s and the remaining judicial papers of the special artillery tribunal in the Paris Arsenal open a massive window onto the problems faced by contractors, sub-contractors, junior military officers, and magazine keepers in a way that is simply not available for the other three arms of the army: the cavalry, infantry, and dragoons. One of the most fascinating avenues I have been able to pursue has been an investigation of the place of horses in the artillery. These were not the sleek, fast mounts of the cavalry but the powerful, muscular beasts bred for pulling coaches and waggons. Even so, the rate of attrition on campaign was horrific, and how their teamsters and suppliers managed them promises insights not only into the place of animals in armies but also into the problems of feeding and caring for them under massive physical strain.

The duc du Maine, Grand Master of the Artillery, 1694-1736. Credit:

This book will also challenge head-on the notion that administrative progress and operational effectiveness were primarily caused by ministerial energy and exhortation, something that is still a shibboleth of French historiography. Instead, ministers’ interventions were just as likely to prove miserably and damagingly counterproductive. More guns that ministers ordered did not mean an inherently better or more orderly system. In fact, excessive efforts by ministers to control the artillery opened the door to vast levels of corruption only proved half a century later…. More mundane and steady improvements were pushed forward by the Grand Masters of the Artillery, especially the king’s favourite bastard child, the duc du Maine, in his term in office after 1694. Some senior artillery officers and a range of private contractors—some rotten to the core, others diligent and scrupulous—also had significant influence on shaping the fourth, Cinderella arm of the land army (after the cavalry, dragoons, and infantry).

This was an era described by one contemporary as ‘the virile age’ of artillery, when cannon began to be deployed in colossal numbers, yet scientific use of heavy weapons was in its infancy, and weak military discipline and education devalued the operational potential of the guns in the field. More importantly, however, the French artillery—the largest body of land-based guns in the world at this time, and one supplied by metals from as far afield as China and Japan—was let down by an infrastructure too underdeveloped for the scale of the state’s operations and strategic needs. Studying the French artillery has really brought it home to me how important the logistical geography of a state, as well as its strategic geography, is to a country’s fate in war. I hope others will also begin to investigate in a systematic way the importance of logistical geography in international relations and in state development.

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.