Alumni Update: Ingrid Ivarsen

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 Ingrid Ivarsen. Dr Ivarsen finished her PhD in St Andrews in April 2020. From October of this year, she will be a Junior Research Fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where she will be working on the language, manuscripts and sources of English law in the twelfth century.

I’m not sure I’ve ever imagined living through a pandemic, but I’m certain I’ve never imagined completing and submitting my PhD thesis, having my viva and graduation and starting new jobs during one – all while sitting at the same desk in my house.

This can only be described as a time of ups and downs. Sadly, I couldn’t celebrate the completion of my PhD with my friends in person, but on the bright side, those endless dark lockdown nights at home in March gave me ample time to proofread my thesis. Unfortunately, work on my new project was slowed down by the lack of books, but on the bright side, those endless lockdown nights at home in May, June, July and August meant that I had more time than usual to dedicate to time-consuming work. (And clearly, I’ve worked on the art of putting a positive spin on things.)

After submitting my thesis, I started working as a research fellow on the project Common law, Civil Law, Customary Law at the School of History in St Andrews. My job was to compile a handlist of all extant manuscripts containing legal texts that existed in England between c.1050 and 1250 and of manuscripts containing English legal texts owned or produced outside England in this period.

In a world without access to a physical library, this proved difficult. Only a few archives have decent online catalogues, and most of the newer printed catalogues are not digitized. I’ve therefore spent most of lockdown focusing on archives that have good online catalogues and archives for which our only catalogues are those compiled in the early twentieth century, most of which are digitized.

Many of these catalogues were compiled by M.R. James, who – it seems from some of his prefaces – was not hugely enthusiastic about law. Perhaps that explains why many texts are described very generally, sometimes only as ‘canon law’ or ‘civil law’. Once I got over my incredulity at such an attitude, I started thinking that there might be much under-studied (perhaps even undiscovered) legal material in these manuscripts. Therefore, much of my time has been spent trying to identify such texts more precisely.

Doing online work with manuscripts also has its ups and downs. I’ve experienced the (relatively rare) thrill of finding that an intriguing manuscript has been digitized and the (relatively frequent) disappointment when there is no digital trace of a manuscript. I’ve also experienced the immense value of searchable databases, such as In Principio, Medieval Libraries of Great Britain and Ames Foundation, and online catalogues. However, I have also realized just how much information is still nowhere near being available online (or, indeed, at all).

In October I’ll be moving from St Andrews to Cambridge, where I will be a Junior Research Fellow at Emmanuel College. While I’ve learnt not to have too many expectations for 2020, I am hoping that the reading rooms open up soon so that I can finally see some of those mystery manuscripts in person.

Crossing the Demarcation Line: Tales of POW Escape in Second World War France

Blog written by Dr Sarah Frank. Dr Frank is a social and military historian specializing in the French Empire during the twentieth century.

Prisoners of war have a complicated place in the public’s mind – there is a tendency to see captivity as a binary experience. Prisoners were, as Donald Trump argues, either people who gave up, or, as popular culture tells us, heroes plotting complicated and daring escapes. Many of us immediately picture Steve McQueen flying over a barbed-wire fence on a motorcycle in The Great Escape (1963). Fans of French films will certainly remember the complicated ending to The Cow and the Prisoner (1959). These competing ideas do not tell us very much about the everyday life of prisoners of war, or how few actually managed to escape (only 5 percent of French prisoners according to French historian Yves Durand).[1] In the French case where 1.8 million French soldiers were captured, the circumstances around the defeat in 1940, the rhetoric of the Vichy government, four years of German occupation, and the difficult liberation all complicated the narratives around captivity and war, which in turn continues to inform our understanding of POW experiences.

Luckily for historians of captivity, escape reports are tremendously fun to read. They illuminate many fine details on lived experience of war and reinforce that captivity during the Second World War was not just a white experience. After France’s rapid defeat in June 1940 over 100,000 colonial soldiers were among the 1.8 million soldiers captured by the German Army. In an extraordinary move, the Germans decided to intern the colonial prisoners of war in camps throughout Occupied France instead of bringing them to Germany with the white prisoners. Captivity in France brought certain advantages: slightly better climate, friendly civilian population, fewer food shortages, and critically, much shorter distances to travel for prisoners hoping to escape. Any prisoner who made it across the demarcation line (the frontier between the occupied Northern zone and the unoccupied Vichy zone) before November 1942 was considered free.

Guerre 1939-1945. Epinal (Vosges). ICRC representative speaking with POW. Photo credit: ICRC Archives, V-P-HIST-03439-12, 24/06/1941.

Escape reports from the colonial prisoners recount exciting tales of hardship and sacrifice. The journey to the unoccupied zone was lonely, long and could be terrifying. Prisoners risked recapture, getting lost or shot, and running out of food and water. Mohamed Ben Brahim and Mohamed Ben Ali spent nine days walking and swimming across two rivers to reach the southern zone.[2] All the colonial prisoners who escaped praised the generosity and assistance found among the French civilians.[3]

Creativity was as essential as good directions and civilian clothes to successfully escape. Colonial prisoners could not blend in with the civilian population as the white prisoners did. Instead, they sought advantages where they could. Albin Bancilon hid in plain sight on a French farm, pretending to be the farmer’s servant.[4] Mohamed Ben Ali took a risky but simple approach – carrying a bucket and dressed in civilian clothes, he walked across France pretending to be a North African civilian worker.[5] It worked! Escaping captivity took patience, effort, and daring. Prisoners took time to study the different possibilities. It took Michel Gnimagnon over a month of planning, and several abortive attempts, before he was able to escape. He wrote a long and dramatic report of his escape from a work assignment after slipping through barbed wire, climbing ramparts, using secret codes – owl cries – to find his guide, and, of course, disguises.[6] Eventually Gnimagnon was hidden aboard a train for Marseilles where he caught bronchitis due to the cold.

Other prisoners looked to the French resistance to help them escape. Pierre Choffel, leader of the Vesoul network, was also the locksmith for the POW camp which gave the resistance a rather large advantage over the camp guards.[7] In the early days, there was a certain complicity between the resistance and the German camp commander Lieutenant Boehm who felt the prisoners were only doing their duty in escaping. Less than six months later Boehm had been replaced because too many prisoners had escaped; after which the German guards were more vigilant, and the escapees more creative. One prisoner escaped from a work group composed of four men while Choffel was nearby.[8] The German guard accused Choffel of facilitating the escape (which he denied), and complained that he could not return to the camp with only three prisoners. Choffel offered to find a fourth, decoy prisoner so the guard would not be blamed for the escape. A medical officer working with the Red Cross agreed to assist as he had more freedom of movement than other prisoners. Slipping out of his Red Cross armband, the guard was able to return to the camp with his four prisoners, and nothing out of the ordinary was noted. Later that day, the medical worker simply put on his Red Cross armband and walked out of the camp. The escape was not reported until the next morning, leaving Choffel and the guard in the clear.

Guerre 1939-1945. Melun. Group of Senegalese prisoners. Photo credit: ICRC Archives, V-P-HIST-03440-36, 17/08/1940.

These escape stories are inherently interesting, but they serve another more important pedagogical role. Historians working on indigenous people subject to French or other colonial rule must wrestle with issues of agency – especially in the primary sources. Many white prisoners, French and British, kept diaries and published memoirs after the war. With a few notable exceptions colonial prisoners did not leave written records of their captivity. As such, much of the information about their captivity is filtered through a white European lens – via camp inspection reports from the Red Cross or correspondence between local French officials worrying about how to integrate colonial prisoners into the local economy. For a variety of reasons, the French authorities interviewed most of the escaped colonial prisoners of war about German propaganda they might have encountered, morale in the camps and relations with French civilians. These testimonies constitute the largest records of colonial prisoners’ captivity experience, containing first person narratives from surrender, capture, through to camp life and escape. While this is a fantastic source where we can finally hear from the prisoners themselves, it, of course, remains problematic. One of the challenges is then how to draw out the voices of those people whose every interaction with the French, who represented the colonial authority, was impacted by hierarchies of race and citizenship.

[1] Yves Durand, La Vie quotidienne des prisonniers de guerre dans les Stalags, les Oflags, et les Kommandos 1939-1945 (Hachette: 1987), p. 107.

[2] SHD, 14P31, Debayeux to Chef d’Escadron commanding the IV/64th RAA, 10 October 1940.

[3] For more examples see SHD, 14P17, Mohamed Ben Mohamed, escape report as told to Lieutenant Charpentier, 29 August 1941; SHD, 14P16, Salah Allag, escape report, [n.d.].

[4] SHD, 14P16, Nussard, recommend Albin Bancilon for commendation, 1 August 1940.

[5] SHD, 14P17, Mohamed Ben Ali, escape report, translated by Ould Yahoui, 7 November 1940.

[6] SHD, 14P46, Michel Gnimagnon, captivity report, 21 January 1941.

[7] AD Haute-Saône, 9J10, Journal de marche du ‘Mouvement Lorraine’ de la Haute-Saône, 28 September 1940.

[8] Ibid.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Laura Bernardazzi

Laura Bernardazzi is a final year PhD student. Her research focuses on combat scenes in Arthurian romances and their connection to martial knowledge found in Fight Books.

Laura grew up in Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland just south of the Alps. Her passion for history started when she was very young. Her love for the Middle Ages was perhaps influenced by the fact that Bellinzona, her hometown, has three beautiful castles (Montebello is her favourite), which she visited regularly over the years since she was just two years old. Many books, documentaries and visits to museums and many other castles while she was growing up cemented her interest in history. After visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum when she was eight years old, she was set on becoming an archaeologist. However, a trip to the UK a couple of years later introduced her to the fascinating world of English history and literature (Harry Potter also played a significant role there).

She decided to follow all her interests by studying for a combined degree in English Literature and Linguistics with Classical Archaeology at the University of Bern. As an undergraduate, she took advantage of the Erasmus and Visiting Scheme Programmes, studying for a semester at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich first and at the University of York later. After completing her BA, she returned to York for an MA in Medieval Studies. There, she had the opportunity to explore topics that she found particularly interesting: chivalric literature, fighting culture, forensic archaeology, history of medicine, medieval languages, and palaeography. Her dissertation, supervised by Dr Michele Campopiano, explored the perception of surgery and its teaching by medical faculties at the early European universities.

For her PhD, she wanted to constructively combine some of her academic interests and moved to St Andrews to work with Dr. Justine Firnhaber-Baker (School of History) and Prof. Dr. Bettina Bildhauer (School of Modern Languages). Her research examines Arthurian romances in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries across three linguistic areas (England, Languedoc, and Italy), focusing on the description of combat scenes through the lens of Fight Books. Fight Books are a sub-genre of technical treatises that instruct the reader in interpersonal combat and make for a fascinating subject. They should not be understood as manuals for beginners, but rather as a mnemonic aid for the already initiated fighter. Their form is very fluid: they can consist of only text, only images, or a mix of both; the language can be either vernacular (mostly German) or Latin and in verse, prose, or both; and they can discuss only one fighting modality or multiple weapons. Laura’s research highlights that the knowledge (both practical and theoretical) contained in Fight Books is highly relevant for a more complete understanding of the romances’ narratives. It also demonstrates that there was a shared European tradition of martial knowledge and practice, rather than separate, language-specific ones.

Laura does not only study interpersonal combat from a theoretical, desk-based perspective, but she also tries to put them into practice (always in a safe training environment). She has been a member of HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) clubs since she moved to the UK, and before the lockdown she could often be found practising solo drills with her sword in St John’s garden. Of course, HEMA training informs her research, but it is also great fun!

The Ills of Hâute Cuisine: Chef Carême’s Saucy Nationalism

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 Claudia Kreklau. Dr Kreklau is an Associate Lecturer in Modern History.

The history of art knows many great names—Da Vinci, Rembrandt, van Gogh. Cuisine works in a similar way, and one of the most influential chefs in the last two hundred years, was Marie Antonin Carême.

Carême was the chef of kings who cooked for Napoleon at his wedding. His impact on ‘modern cuisine’—a term he used—was profound. Carême brought about the lower use of spices compared to the early modern period in modern European hâute cuisine, the great increase in butter and cream in French cooking, and the famous four sauces Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole and Allemande.

Carême certainly counts among one of the most influential ‘modernisers’ of cuisine, yet he himself claimed to be deeply sceptical of political change and the French middle class. In his cookbook, he confessed to be an ardent royalist, called the French Revolution a ‘disaster’ and condescendingly described the bourgeoisie as the ‘new rich’.

Oddly enough, Carême’s food theory further carried bitter undertones of nationalism. He called Spanish sauce a ‘brunette’ sauce (sauce brune) and German sauce (sauce Allemande) a ‘blond sauce’. He spoke to any reservations towards the German and Spanish sauces that his readers might feel due to their lack of French origin by assuring his readers that he had so greatly altered these ‘foreign’ sauces, the German and the Spanish, as to successfully render them ‘entirely French’. This, he argued, made these ‘nationalized sauces’ fit for French consumption. He ardently celebrated the alleged inherent superiority of French cuisine and French chefs beyond the Grande Nation’s borders, expressing gladness that he had seen cuisine in ‘England, Russia, Germany, and Italy’ and found everywhere that it was the French chefs ‘who held the first place in all foreign courts’.

The implicit ideology of Carême’s cuisine held surprisingly long-lasting social implications. His cuisine aided the myth that there was such a thing as a ‘national’ cuisine in France, or indeed elsewhere, though, beyond popular customs using local products and preservation methods, ‘national dishes’ were a recent invention of politically-minded cooks like Carême. Similarly, elite hâute cuisine used more fat and less spice than previously, allowing Europeans to forget that any and every elite European dish in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance had been heavily spiced with primarily South Asian imports. Further, Carême’s food theory carried hidden undertones of anti-Semitism. All of his four sauces contained ham; the Espagnole also included animal fat of unspecified origin and gelatine, while the other three were based on a combination of animal stock and butter, and the Espagnole and Allemande, cream. Strict kosher food laws allowed for neither pork, nor the combination of dairy and meat. This in turn rendered modern elite European cuisine incompatible with kashrut consumption and exclusionary, nationalistically minded, and oblivious of its previous reliance on tasty treasures from abroad.

An image from Careme’s cookbook, containing both a roast and a mention of sauces. Credit: L’art de la cuisine française au dix-neuvième siècle, edited by Renouard and Dentu, 1847.

Carême was not alone in his French culinary exclusions. One specific text by an anonymous author translated as The Art of Cooking into German by 1820 read: ‘In all …Christian-Catholic contemplative practices…the pig plays a key role…not without reason. Most probably the earliest catholic Christians sought to distinguish this good animal on our tables, in order to differentiate themselves from the Jews…all the more clearly’. The author assumed that food could productively segregate between the confessions, but used the idea to differentiate between ‘Jewish Jews’, who reject pork, and ‘our Christian Jews’, who ‘eat bacon and sausage just like all other good Christians’.

Compared to the professed royalist Carême, the unnamed author of the Art of Cooking expressed more ambiguous attitudes towards the French revolution and its secularist effect. The author called ‘the Brumaire’ of Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power the ‘Eighth year of Freedom of happy France’. They criticized Catholic mass and claimed that with the revival of religion, Christmas night meals ‘returned’— crucial to revive those who they argued suffered through the four-hour long night mid-night mass on Christmas. Heavy foods after mass, they argued, were necessary to recover and revive from the strenuous exertion of church service.

The monarchical royalist Carême and the author of the Art of Cooking did not necessarily agree on political ideas, yet likely did concur on who belonged in France according to confessional lines. Carême’s exclusion was not explicitly textual but culinarily symbolic. Making pork the foundation of fonds and sauces, which accompanied a great variety of foods, made it unpalatable to the pork-averse. The anonymous author’s commentary, by contrast, overtly identified pork as a useful tool with which to differentiate between ‘good Christians’ and ‘Jewish Jews’. While Carême and the anonymous author may have differed in whom they politically revered, they likely both agreed on whom their cuisine could easily exclude.

In my current book manuscript, Making Modern Eating, I examine the impact of Carême and translations of French gastronomic literature on elite and middle-class cuisine in nineteenth-century central Europe. French chefs indeed set food-trends for Europe more largely and dominated the grand estate kitchens of royal courts all over the continent like Carême claimed. My work shows that the repercussions of the middle classes’ appetite for French cooking included a redesign of middling food towards a higher degree of exclusion—specifically, through a slow increase in the use of invisible pork. Carême’s odd, saucy nationalism, therefore, caused public establishments like restaurants to be virtually inhospitable for anyone wishing to avoid pork or indeed meat at any point of the week by the middle of the nineteenth century. This included Jews, as well as Catholics, and the growing number of central European vegans and vegetarians.

Alumni Update: Drew B. Thomas

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 Drew Thomas. Dr Thomas finished his PhD at St Andrews in 2018. He is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at University College Dublin where he works on the book trade in Reformation Germany. Here he recounts his experiences with working in academia during the global pandemic.

The rumours started spreading early. The university was preparing to shutdown campus as the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread, so I went to my office, packed up my large, external monitor, hard drives with important research data and books I knew I would need in what I thought would be the coming weeks. Those weeks soon turned to months and the internet was flooded with tips on creating the perfect home office.

Currently, I am a Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University College Dublin working on a digital humanities project on the book trade in Reformation Germany. I am interested in how printers used images and ornamentation in their publications, which can assist in identifying popular iconographies and changing tastes or help identify unknown printers and places of publication. To achieve this, I have spent the last year downloading millions of images of early modern books that have been scanned by research libraries. These images are then processed on Kay, a supercomputer managed by the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC). The final goal is to use machine learning and image recognition software to match instances of the same woodcuts used across multiple books.

Sebastian Münster, Cosmographiae universalis, vol. VI (Basel: Heinrich Petri, 1550). Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Hbks/E 4. Credit: Creative Commons

Due to the digital nature of this project, I have not been as severely affected by the closure of research libraries and archives as other colleagues. However, rather than primary sources, the loss of access to secondary literature has been a constant nuisance. To remedy this, I have purchased more books than I normally do, having reallocated portions of my research budget.

As a research fellow with no teaching requirements and no children of my own, the impact on my daily routine has been minimal, other than working at the desk in my flat, as opposed to my office. I continue to admire my peers who must balance research, teaching, and parenting all at once in a home office environment. I look to them for advice and inspiration as I prepare for remote teaching this autumn.

While I have been able to adjust my research routines to a home office, it has proven much more difficult to adjust my office social life. I share an office with several other postdoctoral researchers, and although we work in different historical periods, the community was vital to our wellbeing, our collective experience of navigating the world of early career researchers and the general scholarly stimulation from discussing research ideas.

My co-investigator and I have managed this by regularly communicating daily or weekly via text, email or on the phone. With my officemates, we have hosted virtual hangouts via Zoom. Although these tools were originally supplied for remote teaching, they have proven useful for keeping a semblance of our previous community. Once the lockdown rules were loosened to allow small gatherings between friends, we coordinated some socially distanced gatherings in a local park.

I would love to return to my office soon, but given it is a shared office, this will be unlikely for some time. Meanwhile, I continue to conduct research from home and encourage you all to set up a phone or video call with some colleagues. Be sure to raise a glass virtually and toast to getting through this together.

What are the Stakes of Global Political and Social Thought?

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 Milinda Banerjee. Dr Banerjee is a lecturer in Modern History.

We live in a world of globalized production and circulation. From the mobile phones and computers we use to the fruits we buy at the supermarket, we inhabit planetary chains of resource extraction, labour, and flows of capital and commodities. Basic concepts we use to make sense of the world today – like democracy, state, and market – are also global concepts with traction across social borders. How should we interpret this globality of thought?

This question lies at the heart of my research and teaching. At St Andrews, together with Dr Margarita Vaysman (Modern Languages), I direct the MLitt Global Social and Political Thought, harboured at the Graduate School for Interdisciplinary Studies. Our students come from across the world. Whatever they are working on – subjects spanning from Hawaiian Indigenous activism to feminist environmental thought – they debate the political stakes involved in the globalization of ideas. They are nourished by the new field of global intellectual history which investigates the production and exchange of ideas across world-regions.

How do ideas achieve global circulation? Some scholars, influenced by an American version of Marxism, attribute responsibility to the globalization of capitalist production and exchange. People living in different parts of the world come to mentally resemble each other in thinking about concepts like property or culture, because they inhabit a similar and connected planetary economy. Against this view, other scholars emphasize that the circulation of ideas happens primarily through political difference and conflict.

In my research and teaching, I outline a third space beyond this distinction between the capitalist-economic and the political: a dialectical method, rooted in subaltern perspectives. I was born in Calcutta, earlier the capital of British India and now the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. I spent the first two and a half decades of my life there, before doing my PhD at Heidelberg. Later, I taught in Calcutta for four years. I have been deeply nourished by Subaltern Studies theory, built by scholars of Indian, especially Bengali, origin, like Ranajit Guha, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Partha Chatterjee, and Dipesh Chakrabarty. For Subaltern Studies theorists, dialectical struggles between elites and subalterns lie at the heart of social and intellectual history. This perspective is shaped by the South Asian heritage of anti-colonial and anti-elite battles, as well as by the tradition of dialectical theorizing embodied by the German philosophers G. W. F. Hegel and Karl Marx.

In my research, I use a dialectical lens to interpret the globalization of ideas. I emphasize socio-economic contexts, but for me these contexts cannot overdetermine intellectual forms. Actors exert their ethical-political agency to negotiate material power structures. Subaltern actors – such as peasants, industrial workers, minorities, refugees, and women – expropriate, resist, and overcome elite grammars of power. They produce novel democratic practices and thought. This lens also animates my work as a founder-editor of the series ‘Critical Readings in Global Intellectual History’ (De Gruyter) and as an Associate Editor of the journal Political Theology (Routledge).

In my PhD, published as The Mortal God: Imagining the Sovereign in Colonial India (Cambridge University Press, 2018), I showed how such dialectics led to the decolonization and democratization of structures and ideas of kingship and sovereignty in late nineteenth and twentieth century India. With Charlotte Backerra and Cathleen Sarti, I edited Transnational Histories of the ‘Royal Nation’ (Palgrave, 2017), to further explore the nexus between kingship and nationalism across modern Asia, Europe, North Africa, and South America.

I have been inspired by developments in transcultural and global history, which I encountered during my years of research in Heidelberg and Munich. With Ilya Afanasyev, I recently edited a special issue ‘The Modern Invention of ‘Dynasty’: A Global Intellectual History, 1500-2000’ in the journal Global Intellectual History (Routledge, 2020). My essay emphasized how state sovereignty and capital are personified, sacralized, perpetuated, and globalized in connected ways. Figures like the Indian merchant-king-god Agrasen (image) personify sovereign capital. The volume as a whole showed how the globalization of ‘dynasty’ as a concept is grounded in dialectical histories of modern state sovereignty, capitalism, and colonial violence, as well as anti-colonial resistance.

The Indian merchant-king-god, Agrasen. Photo credit: Milinda Banerjee

Can anti-colonial resistance transform elite power structures in the international arena? My work on the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (Tokyo Trial, 1946-48) explored how non-Western ideas can help decolonize debates in international criminal law. These excavations in global legal thought led me to co-edit a special issue with Kerstin von Lingen on ‘Law, Empire, and Global Intellectual History’, in the journal Modern Intellectual History (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

I have recently started work on global refugee history. In the international media, refugees are often exclusively portrayed as victims of state terror. But there are also inspiring stories to be told about how refugees build new democratic thought and politics and become agents of change. My work is part of a journal special issue, co-edited with Kerstin von Lingen, on refugee resettlement in the long 1940s, in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the Second World War in Europe, and partitions and civil wars across Asia.

Another issue which is paramount when we think about the global today is the environmental question. Any serious political thought needs to centre the non-human. After all, human beings, especially in the age of industrial capitalism, have catastrophically transformed the environment. Scholars therefore label our epoch as the Anthropocene or the Capitalocene. I am now collaborating with the anthropologist Jelle Wouters to think about more equitable human-nonhuman relation forms, which can challenge regnant structures of hyper-centralized state sovereignty and capitalist commodification that are responsible for the Anthropocene/Capitalocene crisis. We are drawing insights from non-Western societies, such as highlander communities in Asia and Indigenous communities in South America, to equip a new subalternist theory which can wrestle with the current catastrophe.

The stakes of the ‘global’ in global thought are ultimately about our survival as planetary beings, with ineradicable responsibilities to each other that transcend communitarian, national, or even species borders. Through our research and teaching, we have to build a generation who will gather thought in common from different parts of the world to address these questions that constitute the very conditions of our planetary life.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Ysaline Bourgine de Meder

Some could say that my medieval French name, Ysaline, forged my current career path: I am (already!) approaching the final year of my PhD, which focuses on late medieval lordship in Normandy. My PhD is part of the ERC-project ‘STATE – Lordship and the Rise of the State in Western Europe, 1300-1600’, led by Prof Frederik Buylaert (Ghent) and Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker (St Andrews).

Before arriving in St Andrews, I explored many areas of France. I did part of my undergraduate in Marseille and Nancy, before eventually landing in Rouen to work on the medieval king that made me fall in love with the Middle Ages, i.e. Philip The Fair (1285-1314). I also completed a BA in Law to widen my future career horizons. Yet destiny is capricious, and I ended up working on the Norman administration under Philip The Fair; fortunately, this made me eligible for this wonderful ERC-project of comparative history that needed a PhD student with a strong knowledge about the Norman Duchy.

My doctoral project addresses the concept of lordship in the bailliage of Caen from 1400 to 1552. The Norman Duchy is a compelling case-study because its centralization happened quite early in contrast with the rest of the French kingdom. My goals are not only to define the nature of Norman lordship and its scope but also the role played by its owners in these mechanisms of state-building. This is done through a new historiographical angle at the heart of this ERC-project: it implies that the phenomenon that we call ‘the modern state’ could only rise using cooperation as well as coercion. By studying who these Norman lords were and the influence they held as well as their relationships with the French monarchy, I am finally able to understand the dynamics of power between the different types of lords and the Crown in historically challenging times such as the Hundred Years War, when, for example, Normandy underwent the English occupation (1415-1450).

A good perk of this project is that it is shared between the UK and France, which has allowed me to shed light on my work in Leeds during the International Medieval Congress (2018), in Durham at the French-Burgundy seminar (2019), and in Bordeaux. None of this could have happened without St Andrews’ excellent opportunities for improvement for PhD students: CAPOD workshops, writing retreats, not to mention the precious Academic English Service for non-native speakers.

When not working, I have found pleasant company during philosophy meetup groups happening every fortnight in Dundee. Despite the remoteness of St Andrews, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed day trips to Edinburgh and trips to the beautiful highlands, as well as archival trips to Paris or Caen. I also enjoy hobbies that some find radically different, such as farming in Norway, gardening in the South of France, and learning Russian with a committed penpal!

New Frontiers of the History of Books, Media and Libraries

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 Arthur der Weduwen. Dr der Weduwen’s research focuses on history of communication, the early modern print world, the development of the state and the growth of a politically-engaged public.

I first enrolled at St Andrews as an M.Litt student in 2014, after which I took up a PhD in Modern History the following year. As a postgraduate student, my research developed in two areas, both focussed on the history of the Netherlands. I firstly embarked on a study of the emergence of newspaper publishing in the seventeenth century. The Netherlands was a hotbed for the development of the newspaper, and Amsterdam was one of the earliest newspaper centres of the world, responsible not only for multiple competing Dutch papers, but also the first English (1620), French (1620) and Yiddish (1687) newspapers in the world. My work with these early papers, which took me to dozens of libraries in thirteen countries, was published in 2017 as the first complete bibliography of the early Dutch press.

While my interest in these newspapers allowed me to gain insights into the development of commercial news media in the early modern Netherlands, my PhD subject allowed me to acquire a complementary perspective: that is, how government engaged with printed media. The authorities of the highly decentralised Dutch Republic increasingly relied on printed matter – edicts, ordinances, tax forms – to communicate with their citizenry. Based on archival research throughout the Netherlands, my research revealed for the first time to what extent the oligarchic regents of the seventeenth-century Netherlands were at pains to solicit the consent of ordinary citizens to support their administration. At the same time, this work brought home to me how non-commercial jobbing print, like government ordinances, was essential work for the printers of the Dutch Republic: the work was steady, well paid and increasingly lucrative.

A copy of the oldest book printed in the Icelandic language, a New Testament, produced in Roskilde, Denmark (1540). Credit: Proquest

St Andrews was, undoubtedly, the best place to work as a postgraduate student in history. I had the continuous support of the sizeable group of scholars and students who work at the school, not least the group working on early modern book history, revolving around the Universal Short Title Catalogue (USTC) project. The USTC, which was started in St Andrews in 1995 by Professor Andrew Pettegree, is a free online resource that aims to provide descriptions of all books printed before the year 1650, covering the first two centuries following Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. I first encountered the project as an undergraduate student at Exeter when I joined the USTC for its annual summer volunteering programme. Once at St Andrews, I continued to work on the project, mostly on my area of expertise, the Low Countries. From the autumn of 2018 onwards, after finishing my PhD, I had the good fortune to be able to stay at St Andrews and work as a research associate of the USTC project. Since then I have worked closely together with Andrew Pettegree on two further projects: a general history of book publishing and trading during the Dutch Golden Age (published last year by Yale University Press as The Bookshop of the World) and a two-volume history of the invention and development of newspaper advertising – a process that also took place in the precociously innovative Dutch Republic.

Baroque glories. The eighteenth century saw the transformation of many libraries in German and Austrian monastic houses from humble work rooms to grand library halls – impressive for visitors, not much congenial for study. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The global pandemic threw a spanner in the works for many research plans this year, not least the cancellation of the symposium on newspaper advertising in Amsterdam that was to accompany the publication of our latest project. Nevertheless, I was lucky to be able to turn to other work that could be done from the safety and convenience of home in St Andrews. One of the most exciting aspects of this work was the advancement that the USTC team – staff, students and volunteers – made to expand its coverage of the national print cultures of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. The art of printing, invented by Gutenberg in Mainz in the 1450s, spread rapidly throughout Europe but failed to settle permanently in broad swathes of northern and eastern Europe. For this reason, countries like Latvia (where printing started in 1588), Estonia (1632), Finland (1642) and Norway (1643) did not feature strongly in the first iterations of the USTC. We have now rectified this, adding records of thousands of books printed in these countries, as well as in Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Lithuania and Belarus. It is a real pleasure to bring this work to a global audience. It has also allowed me to introduce myself to a whole new range of European scholarship and languages (I’ll admit that my Swedish is getting on better than my Estonian). We are keeping up with progress as I write: our current work concentrates on Hungary, Romania and Poland – more sizeable, but equally remarkable print domains.

In The Library, A Fragile History, we write about libraries of all shapes and sizes, including the mid-twentienth century vogue for an organised pack horse library service that ran throughout the Appalachian range. Credit: University of Kentucky Library

The period of lockdown also proved to be an amenable time for writing. The past eight months has seen Andrew Pettegree and myself write the text of a new book, The Library, a Fragile History, to be published by Profile in 2021. In this work we survey the global history of libraries, from ancient Alexandria to the present day, and frame the current crisis of public library funding and closures within a broader narrative in which institutional libraries have always struggled – for funding, status and survival. It has been exciting to write on such a broad topic and to learn so much in the process about different time periods of history and different cultures. Although I’m certain that the early modern Netherlands will always remain dear to my heart, it has been a fantastic experience to move seriously beyond its remit.

I received the happy news earlier this summer that I will be able to stay in St Andrews on a three-year postdoctoral fellowship funded by the British Academy. One thing is clear to me – I would not wish to work anywhere else. The new teaching and research regime imposed by the pandemic will undoubtedly bring its challenges, but I am confident that staff and students at the school of history will flourish as before.

Alumni Update: Kimberly B. Sherman

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.

Post written by Kimberly B. Sherman. Dr Sherman finished her PhD at St Andrews in 2018. She now resides and works in Wilmington, North Carolina. Here she recounts her experiences with history during the global pandemic.

Post-PhD life has been unlike anything I could have predicted. I’m currently living in my hometown where I am a Lecturer in History at our local community college in Wilmington, North Carolina. I was actually in Edinburgh spending time with family and friends just as the seriousness of COVID-19 became clear and a worldwide pandemic was declared. I flew back to North Carolina as borders closed and quarantine restrictions were announced around the US and UK. 

Staying productive for the past few months has been challenging, especially as my teaching transitioned from seated, on-campus courses to online instruction. Like many other faculty at institutions worldwide, it was a huge learning curve for me. Despite the challenges, being at home presented new opportunities including more time to make one of my history dreams come true — starting a podcast!

I’ve been an avid podcast-listener since 2014, just as the medium came into its own, and I’ve long wanted to use podcasting to bring history to a wider audience. In 2018 I was awarded a short-term research fellowship at the Winterthur Museum and Library in Delaware. My research project would focus on attitudes toward death in the early American South — a place where tropical diseases and an intense climate combined for often deadly results. I worked in residence at Winterthur during summer 2019 where I learned methodological practices for studying material culture, examined mourning art and jewelry, and steeped myself in written sources like funeral poetry. It was a fantastic experience, but I did not know where the research might take me.

Burial site for victims of the 1862 yellow fever epidemic in Wilmington, NC. Photo credit: Kimberly Sherman

My interest in deathways and environmental history in the American South, as well as ongoing research in the history of the family, led Bellamy Mansion Museum to invite me to speak on the topic of a yellow fever epidemic that raged through Wilmington in 1862. The response to the event was huge — the main parlors of the house were packed, people sat on the main staircase, on the floor, and even more were turned away due to space and sound constraints. I had so much fun sharing the research I had begun several months earlier and conversations with attendees helped me see that this was a topic people were interested in — not just yellow fever, but how people in the past have dealt with death.

Enter Historia Mortis. By Spring 2020 I began planning episodes, social media, guest lists, and more. I expected to launch in August with the first season chronicling the 1862 yellow fever epidemic, beginning on the anniversary of the arrival of the Kate — the blockade-running ship that brought the disease to Civil War Wilmington via the Bahamas. Coronavirus intervened. With closures of libraries and other cultural institutions across the US, I was left without access to any sources that were not freely available online. Those amazing manuscripts I hoped to get my hands on for season one? Not happening anytime soon. 

As I write this in early July 2020, North Carolina still remains in an extended ‘phase two’ of reopening the state, not including libraries and museums. I had to decide whether I would postpone my launch into 2021 or revise my first season. Season One will now be a ‘mini’ deep-dive into a range of topics related to early American deathways — everything from the material culture of mourning and the experience of widowhood, to the work of early modern ghost hunters! I also hope to feature the research of fellow University of St Andrews students and alumni in various episodes.

It’s been a crazy, fun route to learn more about producing historical research for podcasting and I can’t wait to share it with the world! For more information about Historia Mortis, visit and follow us on Instagram at @historiamortis

Postgraduate Spotlight: Jiazhu Hu

Jiazhu is a fourth-year PhD student in Mediaeval History. Her research focuses on the political language used by late medieval English towns.

Growing up in Shanghai in a family of chemists, Jiazhu never pictured herself pursuing a career in medieval history until she came to St Andrews in 2014. Frustrated by Chinese high school math, Jiazhu woke up from her childhood dream of winning a Nobel Prize in sciences and instead pursued a degree in English Language and Literature at Fudan University. During her third year she spent one semester visiting the University of Manchester, where she took a module in medieval English literature and started her exposure to a medieval world different from the one portrayed in Shakespeare’s history plays.

This led Jiazhu to do her MPhil in medieval studies at St Andrews during 2014-16, where she carried out interdisciplinary research on messengers in later medieval England, under the supervision of Dr Margaret Connolly and Dr Rory Cox. During this period, Jiazhu found herself in a loving and supportive community of medievalists and was fascinated by the ways historians work. Supported by a joint scholarship scheme between the University and the China Scholarship Council, she began to pursue a doctorate degree in history at St Andrews in the autumn of 2016, under the supervision of Dr Rory Cox and Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker, and received a desk in the Osgood Room at St John’s House.

Jiazhu is currently interested in the political culture of late medieval England, especially political communication between royal and local governments, and political language used by medieval English towns. Her thesis focuses on the case of the Cinque Ports, a confederation of Kentish and Sussex ports in England. It explores how medieval England’s only urban confederacy represented its political identity and voiced communal concerns through the language of petitioning under the reigns of the three Edwards (1272-1377). This study of the political consciousness and participation of maritime towns also aims to contribute to the historiographical trend that has recently been extending the boundaries of medieval England’s political society.

Apart from doing research, Jiazhu co-organised the Postgraduate Mediæval History Seminar series during 2018-19, luring audiences with wine on Wednesday evenings and hosting social events for Halloween and Christmas. She has also tutored on ME1006: Scotland and the English Empire 1070 – 1500 during the Candlemas semesters of 2017/18 and 2018/19 and has been teaching Mandarin Chinese for the University’s evening language courses since 2015. Outside of academia, Jiazhu enjoys making food, tea, and ice cream. Although a sedentary creature, she is occasionally fond of traveling and hiking. As for relaxation she has a taste for film and television (of various genres), anime, gaming, photography, and video making.