Student News: Introducing ‘Mer-Plant-Ilism’

Blog written by Christin Simons. Christin is a 3rd year PhD student at the Institute for Scottish History studying the perception of the Scandinavian East India Companies.

Elena Romero Passerin (left) and Christin Simons (right) with their new board game. Photo provided by Christin Simons.

PhD candidates Christin Simons and Elena Romero Passerin have shared an office in the Bute building since 2017. In 2018 they came up with the idea of creating a board game based on their PhD research. Combining the History of Botany and Maritime History resulted in a board game now funded by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities. It was shown for the first time at the Doctoral Showcase in Glasgow on 20 June 2019.

Mer-Plant-Ilism is a strategy board game, in which players can play the character of a botanist from Spain, the Netherlands, Great Britain, France, Sweden, or Austria traveling with trading company ships to collect exotic vegetal specimens from all over the world. The game is set in the frame of 18th century mercantilism and considers historical events of the time.

Mer-Plant-Ilism, the board game. Photo provided by Christin Simons.

Missions and event cards make the collecting of the plants a real challenge. The game can be played by up to 6 players. During the game players may trade with each other or form alliances, but beware, the odds can change within a single roll of the die!

Crisis or Enlightenment? 2019 USTC History of the Book Conference

Blog written by Elise Watson. Elise is a first year PhD student in the Reformation Studies Institute and part of the Universal Short Title Catalogue project. Her research focuses on the trade of Catholic books in the Dutch Golden Age, and she will be co-organising next year’s annual book conference on Gender and the Book Trades with Professor Helen Smith. 

On 20-22 June, scholars from as near as Church Street and as far as Colombia gathered for the annual conference hosted by the Universal Short Title Catalogue project, this year entitled ‘Crisis or Enlightenment?’. The conference, organised by St Andrews School of History postdoctoral researcher Dr. Arthur der Weduwen and Université Rennes 2 postdoctoral research fellow Dr. Ann-Marie Hansen, was also generously sponsored by the School of History of the University of St Andrews and the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP). The conference consisted of eight panels, two keynotes and 24 presenters spread over three days. The chronological range of the conference’s presentations, which extended beyond the current scope of the USTC, both broadened the horizons of the project and explored some of the fundamental questions of early modern book history.

Conference co-organiser Dr. Anne-Marie Hansen address the attendees.
Photo credit: Nora Epstein

The first panel of the conference discussed networks and book distribution from Vienna to Edinburgh. From there, the conversation shifted to book collecting, in examples of parish libraries and Italian monastery libraries. After lunch, a panel on profits and markets discussed the marketing and sale of particular genres of books, including medical books in the Dutch Republic and school books in Catalonia, as well as examples of how (not) to run a print shop in the Enlightenment. The first day concluded with a plenary address by Professor Ian Maclean on the impact of academic journals on the German book fairs in the Enlightenment. After the work of the first day was done, presenters and attendees were treated to an exhibition from University Special Collections, a carefully curated and fascinating collection of early print.

Attendees peruse the Special Collections exhibition in College Hall, St Mary’s College
Photo credit: Nora Epstein

On the second day, the first panel discussed auction catalogues and collecting practices in Lübeck, French private libraries and Jewish collections in the Dutch Republic. The second panel, which dealt with newspapers and periodicals, discussed French language gazettes and discussions of comets in eighteenth-century ephemera. After lunch, three papers on science and censorship in Italy and the Spanish colonies shifted our understandings of the relationship between control and innovation in Enlightenment publishing. The second plenary of the conference, delivered by Professor Dominique Varry of the École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques, delighted the crowd with a fascinating discussion and entertaining examples of false imprints in eighteenth-century French books, including a book claiming its origin in Hell, at the print shop of Beelzebub himself!

Image courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

The second day concluded with the launch of the conference volume Buying and Selling: The Business of Books in Early Modern Europe, edited by USTC alumna Dr. Shanti Graheli and published in Brill’s Library of the Written Word series. This was celebrated with a wine reception sponsored by SHARP.

The final day contained two further sessions. The first, on production, crisis and change, included a fascinating discussion of the impact of the Disaster Year of 1672 on print production in the Dutch Republic. The eighth and final panel included three papers on Enlightenment libraries, asking practical and interpretive questions of what we mean when we say ‘Enlightenment library’ and interrogating systems of organisation, annotation and use. Along with the presentations, I think all participants would agree that a great amount of collaboration and in-depth scholarly synthesis occurred during both the question and answer sessions, and later at the pub after the ideas presented had some time to digest. We are grateful for the help provided by everyone from St Andrews, especially the USTC summer interns, as well as all participants for their excellent and thought-provoking contributions! The conference proceedings will be edited by the co-organisers, Dr. Arthur der Weduwen and Dr. Ann-Marie Hansen, and published in Brill’s Library of the Written Word series.

For more reporting on the conference see the recent blog on the Preserving the World’s Rarest Books site, or follow the coverage on the Twitter hashtag #USTC19. Next year’s conference, entitled ‘Gender and the Book Trades’, is being organised by Professor Helen Smith (York) and myself (Elise Watson), and it will be held from 2-4 July 2020. For more information, please see https://www.ustc.ac.uk/conference!

Postgraduate Skills Seminar: Dr Gareth Williams, British Museum

Blog written by PhD student Christin Simons. Christin is a 3rd year PhD student at the Institute for Scottish History studying the perception of the Scandinavian East India Companies.

School of History, St John’s House
Photo credit: Emily Betz

On Thursday 11 April, Dr Gareth Williams from the British Museum visited St Andrews to discuss alternative career paths for PhD students considering a non-academic career. He spoke specifically on pathways to becoming a museum curator. This event was hosted under the sponsorship of the University’s Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development (CAPOD) under the Quality Assurance Agency Scotland (QAA) thematic initiative ‘Transitions’.

Dr Williams, who has been a curator with the British Museum since 1996, managed to both promote the career possibilities for becoming a museum curator while being candid about the challenges of the job at the same time. He painted a realistic picture of the work in a museum, which comes with limited career development and lack of funding opportunities, but his enthusiasm for working in the field still made it an attractive opportunity to pursue after finishing one’s PhD. For the attendees without a degree in Museum Studies, it was especially encouraging to hear that it is possible to enter the museum world by way of internships, volunteering or trainee curatorship. As well as responsibilities like the management of collections, public engagement and exhibition display, Dr Williams gave further insight into the ‘less obvious things’ that come with being a museum curator, like the teaching, training and mentoring of doctoral students.

The attendees commented on the practical value of the session. Matthew Ylitalo, PhD candidate in Modern History, stated that he appreciated the field previously but admittedly had not seriously considered entering it, having thought that not having a postgrad degree in museum studies excluded him.  He noted ‘Gareth quickly put all of that to rest when he introduced the state of the field and its possibilities.  To my surprise, there are a number of non-traditional pathways into curatorial work. Even if I do not pursue full-time employment with a museum, Gareth convinced me that volunteering with a museum or project could be a fulfilling and much appreciated prospect’. Another attendee, Chelsea Reutke, PhD candidate in Early Modern History, liked the speaker’s enthusiasm and helpfulness in answering questions. ‘He conveyed both the exciting opportunities as well as the pragmatic realities of working in museums. After attending his talk, I feel that I have a solid understanding of the requirements of different types of museums. Museums remain one of my career paths after my PhD, and I now feel that I know what it will take and what to look for’. Echoing that sentiment, Clémentine Anne, PhD candidate in Modern History, declared, ‘I think I am now more aware of the reality of the job and can reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of a career in museums.’

The overall consensus was that this was an extremely informed and useful session, and we thank Dr Williams for sharing his experience with us.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Konstantin Wertelecki

Konstantin is a final year PhD student in Modern History. In this post he writes on the research of ‘Others’ and why history is so important.

If I had to summarise in a word why I chose to research history, it would be the word ‘human’. In political science, people are dehumanised to calculations, flow charts and digits of mechanical proportions. In the arts, people are pedestalised and crafted beyond authentic recognition to a fantastical scale. But in history we comb through both the ugly and the elegant, the bewildering and the bewitching. As historians we seek to discover the genuine patterns of ‘human-ness’.

My research looks into the lives of the expatriate British community in Florence between the First and Second World Wars. While upon first glance this seems a rather unextraordinary subject compared to the study of spies, humanitarian heroes and other grand figures, this topic overflows with a hidden complexity that forces us to face our ‘human-ness’, not only as historical observers, but also as historical participants. 

Old-fashioned historians love to ‘tidy’: countries are categorised by print-friendly borders, people are sorted into easily distinguishable labels of ‘ethnicity’, ‘nationality’ and ‘race’ and sweeping generalisations of ‘us’ and ‘others’ allow for a quick-and-easy history that politicians can parade as a ‘national story’. Rarely, however, is history so precise.

When I first began my research, I, too, very much fell into the trap of arranging my historical subjects tidily into ‘British’ and ‘Italian’ camps. I sought to sculpt a narrative of a ‘transplanted’ Little Britain to the idyllic Tuscan hills. My naïve perceptions were soon challenged, however, as I came across ‘unusual’ cases of ‘Britishers’ who were also Italian, ‘Britishers’ who had been born and lived their whole lives in Florence, ‘Britishers’ who took Italian spouses and had Italian children and ‘Britishers’ who unabashedly declared their distaste for all that the United Kingdom represented. It was at this moment that I realised what great responsibility (but also what great privilege) historians, as historical participants, have in highlighting this ‘human’ element for future historical observers.

In addition, my own personal perspective as an expatriate in Scotland aided me in learning more about the British in Florence from the questions that philosophically challenged me, and no doubt challenged them as well: What is it to be ‘x’ nationality? What is to be ‘patriotic’? Is one no longer an ‘x’ national if the ‘purity’ of one’s patriotism has been diluted by experiences abroad?

If there is one message I would deliver of my experiences on the practise of history to the historian and non-historian alike, it is this: our discipline is the most enriching for the very ‘weaknesses’ by which it is criticised. It is not (nor should it try to be) a science that artificially contours people, places and ideas of the past to a painfully corseted fit. Nor is it of the arts that embellishes, romanticises or spectacularises the ordinary to grotesque or wondrous dimensions. It is an honesty-seeking discipline that braves the messily splashed remnants of past fortunes, failures and forged attempts. It is a discipline which is underutilised in its strong potential of pointing to the paradigms of the future from the patterns of the past. It is the discipline that teaches us what it is to be ‘human’.

2019 SAIMS Graduate Conference

By Dana Weaver

The weekend of the 6th-8th June the Saint Andrews Institute of Mediaeval Studies (SAIMS) held its annual postgraduate conference, welcoming colleagues from around Europe and the United Kingdom. Jointly sponsored by SAIMS, the School of History, the Centre for Anatolian and East Mediterranean Studies, the Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research and CAPOD, the aim of the conference was not only to give postgraduate researchers an opportunity to present their ongoing work, but also to bring together medievalists from a variety of fields with the goal of facilitating interdisciplinary dialogue. The success of this can be seen in the diversity of topics presented and in the wide range of speakers which included students, early career scholars and established academics.  

We began Thursday morning with a paper by Renan Baker (Cambridge) on ‘Latin Imperial Biographies and Miscellanies’ that provoked a welcome debate on the nature of genre. This was followed by a session on Anglo-Saxon saints with papers from Alice Neale (SAS, London) and John Hudson (St Andrews) entitled ‘Turning Æthelthryth’s pages: the development of the cult of an Anglo-Saxon saint during the tenth-century reform movement’ and ‘The cult that didn’t happen: the case of (St) Lanfranc of Canterbury’, respectively. This session generated a fruitful discussion on the factors contributing to the success or failure of the development of saints’ cults. After a short break we heard from Serena Ammirati (Roma Tre) on ‘Authoritative writing, writing as authority: the contribution of paleography to the history of the transmission of Roman legal thought,’ sponsored by the ILCR, and Justyna Kamińska (Jagiellonian) on ‘The role of the founders in the building process of the Dominican church and cloister of St James in Sandomierz’. Both of these papers encouraged us to find meaning through visual forms and processes.

Our own Professor John Hudson (left) and Professor Carole Hillenbrand (right) presenting at this year’s conference. Photo credit: Cameron Houston

After a productive day of papers and discussion, the evening commenced with a garden party at St John’s House where a friendly game of cricket was followed by pizza and a drinks reception. Scholarly debate continued, but was punctuated by the process of getting to know the people behind the research. Those from St Andrews were especially pleased with the blue skies and sunlight late into the evening.

On Friday we started the day with a paper by Franziska Geibinger (Vienna) entitled ‘The functional types of the representation of the elevation of the hairy Mary Magdalene in her development to the determining “cult image”’, which explored a unique representation of a familiar saint. A paper was also given by Roman Tymoshevskyi (CEU) on ‘The discourse of kingship in John Gower’s and Thomas Hoccleve’s Mirrors of Princes’, provoking rumination on the role of power and the moral expectations of kingship.

The keynote speaker was Carole Hillenbrand (Edinburgh and St Andrews), who led us through her ‘Reflections on the caliphate’. This was a riveting survey of the caliphate from its beginning to the end of the Ottoman empire from which sprung a fascinating discussion about the conceptualization of the caliphate in modern-day politics and the centralization of power in the middle east.

After lunch and with prevailing good weather Alex Woolf (St Andrews) led a medieval walking tour of St Andrews. It was enjoyed by all of its participants, especially those of us from St Andrews who were seeing the town through a new lens. Back at St John’s House we began the second half of our day with a paper by Nic Morton (Nottingham) on ‘Confronting and culturally absorbing Mongols and Seljuk Turks’, followed by David Zakarian (Oxford) who spoke on ‘Women and the laws of men in medieval Armenia’, sponsored by CAEMS. Both of these papers took us beyond the borders of western Europe and into the near east where the discussion centered around questions of cultural transmissions and connections.

Dr Alex Woolf led a medieval walking tour of St Andrews
Photo credit: Cameron Houston

Our last panel of the day included topics of philosophy with papers by Mahdi Ranaee (Potsdam) on ‘Al-Ghazâlî on sophistry and doubt’ and Ana Martins on ‘Political yhought in Collectanea Moralis Philosophiae (1571).’ Each of these papers encouraged thought on textual organization and engagement: how do we conceive of the interaction between texts, authors, and time?

Friday evening was spent at Forgan’s enjoying a lively conference dinner followed by a ceilidh—a great way to introduce our guests from beyond St Andrews to some local traditions. The following morning dawned the last day of the conference and began with a paper entitled ‘Imagining the cross, imagining Christ: insular sculpture in the Viking Age’ by Heidi Stoner (Durham), which captured the importance of moving beyond attributions of ethnicity in early insular sculpture. The keynote speaker on Saturday was Charles West (Sheffield) who gave a stimulating paper on ‘Hincmar of Reims and the politics of the ordeal.’ This paper examined the part of the ecclesiast in the politics of trial by ordeal and encouraged a discussion on the role of intercession, both sacred and secular, in the outcome.

After a short break we heard papers given by Blythe Malona (Glasgow) entitled the ‘Percy empire: building a northern lordship’, John Aspinwall (Lancaster) entitled ‘Patronage and politics: literary production as a strategy of power in Rogerian Sicily’ and Oliver Mitchell (Courtauld) entitled ‘Power and Fortune’s Wheel’. These three topics all explored some aspect of the pursuit of power and the ways in which it is recognized and displayed. The day concluded with lunch and goodbyes: the culmination of a rewarding conference spent exploring the medieval world through new and innovative perspectives.   

A special thanks is due to our conference organizers Ingrid Ivarsen, Maria Merino and JJ Gallagher, as well as the St Andrews University catering staff. Many thanks to each of you for your patience and good humor.  

Publication Spotlight: Sixteenth-Century Readers, Fifteenth-Century Books

Blog written by Dr Margaret Connolly

Most of my research has been firmly based in the fifteenth century, and a lot of it has been concerned with Middle English texts and their manuscript contexts. The study of English medieval manuscripts has been dominated in recent years by issues related to book production and by the quest to identify individual scribes, and I have gradually come to realise that considerably less attention has been paid to the readers of manuscripts, and to what happened to books once they passed into general circulation. So, when I came across two fifteenth-century manuscripts that were owned in the sixteenth century by the same family, I was intrigued by the possibility of tracing the story of those readers and their books. The family was the Roberts family of Middlesex, and a total of eight surviving manuscripts can be connected with them. That might not sound like a large number, but to be able to link several medieval manuscripts to the same owners is quite rare, especially if those owners were not royal or noble. It’s the very ordinariness of this English gentry family that makes them interesting, and I’ve enjoyed living with them over the past decade, charting their careers in the public record; working out the details of their family history, marriages, and children; and uncovering their networks of professional and personal associations.

The two men who are at the heart of my study lived through exceptionally turbulent times: Thomas Roberts died in 1542, just a few years after the dissolution of the monasteries, and his son, Edmund, lived through several changes in official religion under Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary Tudor, dying in Elizabeth I’s reign in 1585. I was struck by the fact that these sixteenth-century men chose at least some of their reading not from material that was newly produced but from books that were much older than they were. The texts that those books offered were ones that had been written in an age that was wholly and unproblematically Catholic, which prompted the question: Why did my newly reformed readers favour these old medieval books?

A manuscript owned by Edmund Roberts.
Cambridge University Library MS Ii.6.2 f. 109r.
Photo by Dr Margaret Connolly.

One manuscript in particular stood out to me. It’s not the flashiest, because it isn’t one of the illuminated ones. Instead it’s a small and fairly shabby volume that contains a series of devotional prose texts written in English. Edmund Roberts annotated some of these texts by underlining points and phrases, and by repeating key words in the margins; at one point he adds the comment ‘A vere good praier’. The text that prompted that approving remark offers advice on how to pray and then a meditation on Christ’s death on the cross and is drawn from a longer fifteenth-century work, Contemplations of the Dread and Love of God. In his book of hours Edmund signed his name beneath another prayer, adding a comment in which he claimed to use it every day. That prayer is one that promises tangible rewards if the speaker repeats it a certain number of times whilst also performing a particular set of actions. Between them these two short texts cover a spectrum of devotional practice ranging from an unremarkable orthodox engagement with core aspects of the Christian faith to a more superstitious style of worship verging on magical ritual, and this in turn offers some insights into Edmund’s spirituality.

Edmund also wrote the date ‘1553’ in both these manuscripts showing that he was using them in the year that Mary Tudor came to the throne, a point at which the official religion again became Catholicism. Edmund’s splendidly illustrated book of hours was a volume that he had inherited from his father, Thomas, and both men added extra texts to it, including prayers to the Virgin and charms and incantations that offered protection against ill-fortune. Were these men Catholic or Protestant? I spent a good deal of time trying to find an answer to this question, considering not just the evidence of the manuscripts, but also the clues offered by the men’s lives – their occupations, professional networks, and social circles. The Roberts family were not prominent recusants, but they certainly had recusant friends. One of Thomas Roberts’s closest affiliates was John Newdigate, whose son Sebastian was one of the Carthusian martyrs. Edmund did not prosper as much in public life as his father had done and fades out of the public record in Elizabeth’s reign. Amongst the godparents that he chose for his children was Susan Clarence, one of Mary Tudor’s closest attendants, and this and other clues eventually led me to believe that he may have been reformed in name only, preferring the ways of the old religion. But I also realised that in uncertain times discretion was probably the order of the day, and that the reason I couldn’t pin down clear evidence of these Tudor men’s religious affiliations might be because they didn’t want to nail their colours to the mast. This resonated with behaviour that I observed during the modern political events that unfolded whilst I was writing this book (the referendums in 2014 and 2016 on Scottish independence and membership of the European Union), and the way that some people are happy to articulate their voting intentions whilst others prefer to keep their beliefs to themselves.

ISHR Reading Weekend 2019

Blog post written by Sarah Leith

The Burn
Photo Credit: The Burn Scotland

The second weekend in April is always hotly anticipated by members of the University of St Andrews’ Institute of Scottish Historical Research (ISHR). Every year, a group of staff, students and guests descends upon The Burn, which is a country house situated on the outskirts of Edzell, a Georgian planned town straddling the border between Angus and Aberdeenshire. What they have been eagerly awaiting all year is ISHR’s annual reading weekend, the main event in the calendars of every University of St Andrews Scottish historian and historian-in-training. Always full of fascinating papers covering all aspects of Scottish historical studies, this year’s reading weekend was no exception. The ISHR reading weekend provides the perfect opportunity for PhD students to present their research in front of their peers and lecturers in a comfortable and informal setting. It also allows these students to listen to and to engage with the research currently being conducted by members of staff within the School of History. So, what happened this year?

On Friday evening, the attendees having devoured The Burn’s supply of scones alongside very welcome cups of tea and coffee, the proceedings of ISHR’s reading weekend enjoyed a propitious start in the form of Dr Derek Patrick’s introductory lecture. In his paper entitled ‘‘Probably at no time in its history has the popularity of the regiment been so emphatically demonstrated’: The Black Watch and Kitchener’s New Army, 1914-15’, Dr Patrick provided his audience with an extremely interesting account of the Black Watch’s volunteers at the beginning of the First World War. The talk was followed by lively discussion and questions abounded. For the rest of the night, The Burn’s guests settled in front of the roaring coal fire to catch up with each other, as well as to listen to Masters research student Jack Abernethy’s beautiful renditions of traditional fiddle music. Many thanks to Jack for bringing along his fiddle!

Dr Derek Patrick giving the 2019 reading weekend introductory lecture
Photo credit Sarah Leith

The next morning guests were up bright and early for the first panel, ‘Trade and Economics’. Our first speaker was Matt Ylitalo with a paper entitled ‘A walrus, a polar bear, and a humpback whale: Dundee’s nineteenth-century trade in Arctic animals’. Who knew that a polar bear was once loose in the centre of Dundee?! We then welcomed Dr Andrew McDiarmid from the University of Dundee who spoke on ‘Exiled Economics: a model for understanding the Scottish Financial Revolution’. Following a short break for refreshments, the next panel, ‘The Scottish Soldier at Home and Abraod’ began swiftly; two of Professor Steve Murdoch’s first year PhD students, Xiaoping Qi and Callum Woolsey, presented papers respectively upon the subjects of ‘Scottish Regiments in France, 1633-1659’ and ‘The Tartan Army: Home and Away in the 1640s’. For our third panel, we welcomed two guests from the University of Kent. In January we welcomed Dr Amy Blakeway as the newest member of ISHR, and so we invited her two PhD students, Graeme Millen and Anna Turnham, to join us for the Reading Weekend. Graeme and Anna both kindly presented papers on Saturday, too, with Graeme telling us about ‘A real distaste of the country and the service’: Major-General Hugh Mackay’s Memoirs, the Scots-Dutch Brigade and Identity during the Highland War, 1689-1692’ and Anna presenting a paper entitled ‘Between Berwick and Scotland: the correspondence of Ralph Sadler and James Croft with the Lords of the Congregation, 1559’.

After lunch, the group embarked on an outing to the Grassic Gibbon Centre, located near Arbuthnott. The Grassic Gibbon Centre celebrates the life of the twentieth-century Scottish writer James Leslie Mitchell, better known by his penname Lewis Grassic Gibbon. His most famous work, Sunset Song, the first part of his trilogy A Scots Quair, is widely regarded as the finest Scottish novel ever written. Having enjoyed this excursion, the group then returned to The Burn ready to listen to the next panel. Before dinner, we enjoyed the contributions of Daniel Leaver and Carol McKinven, who presented papers entitled ‘Revisiting ‘The New Commanding Height’: The North Sea and the Wilson Governments, 1964-70’ and ‘The master of the house?: Obligations and reciprocity in Scottish working-class marriage’. The day ended with a Quiz Night, which was won by Team Sofa So Good.

The last day began with a panel about Scotland’s twentieth century. James Inglis presented his paper ”Don’t write in the dark’: The commercialisation of the visible typewriter in Scotland’, complete with typewriter prop! This was followed by a paper given by Paul Malgrati entitled ”See yonder poor’: Robert Burns and the Welfare State (1940-1950)’. For the last panel of the weekend, we were given insight into the new ‘After the Enlightenment Project’ being conducted at the University of St Andrews. Dr Bill Jenkins and Dr Felicity Loughlin gave two papers about ‘The identities of David Brewster: The self-fashioning of a Scottish man of science, 1802–1838’ and ‘Scotland’s Infidels: Freethinkers’ Societies, c.1820-c.1850′. This was a great ending to a brilliant reading weekend. Many thanks to everyone who contributed papers, and to those who came along to listen and to enjoy the weekend. See you at The Burn again next year!