Staff Spotlight: Professor Aileen Fyfe

Blog written by Professor Aileen Fyfe. Professor Fyfe is a Professor of Modern History. Her research focuses upon the history of science and technology, particularly the communication of science, and the technologies which made that possible. She is currently investigating the history of academic publishing from the seventeenth century to the present day.

Prof Aileen Fyfe At the launch of ‘Academic Women Here’, 2018 (with Sharon Ashbrook)

I joined the School of History at St Andrews in January 2011, after ten years working at the National University of Ireland, Galway (where I learned much less Irish than you might imagine). I was born and brought up in Glasgow, so, thanks to those years in west-coast cities, I find myself still pleasantly surprised by how dry and sunny it usually is in St Andrews. I’m not so keen on the haar, though!

I studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, where I discovered a subject called ‘History and Philosophy of Science’. I haven’t done much philosophy since then, but that training continues to inform my research. I’m interested in knowledge – especially knowledge about the natural world, which we nowadays call ‘science’ – and I’m interested in the social practices that affect how knowledge is constructed, organised, and communicated. What determines who can claim to have knowledge? Or what forms of knowledge come to be regarded as trustworthy? And who decides who gets access to what knowledge? You could phrase those as philosophical or sociological questions, but I’m interested in them historically.

I pursue these questions in a variety of different contexts, which means I end up knowing about all sorts of things that might not be obvious from the label ‘historian of science’. A lot of it is to do with the history of publishing, since that has historically been one of the most effective ways for knowledge to circulate, but I’ve also written about museums and tourism. I wrote my PhD and first book on the popular science books published by the Religious Tract Society, a Protestant evangelical missionary organisation in nineteenth-century Britain – but I’ve also written about Enlightenment children’s literature, university set texts, and instructive penny periodicals. I’m particularly proud of my 2012 book, Steam-Powered Knowledge, which started off as a study of an Edinburgh educational publisher but turned into an investigation of the adoption of steam-powered technologies (including railways and steamships, as well as printing machines).

A few years after arriving at St Andrews, I won a large grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Council to enable me—in partnership with the Royal Society—to lead a team of researchers to investigate the 350-year history of scientific journals, and specifically, the Philosophical Transactions, founded in 1665. It has a good claim to be the world’s longest-running scientific journal and some claim to be the first scientific journal (but colleagues in France and Germany may disagree). It is about as far from ‘popular’ science as one can get, but I have found myself becoming fascinated with editorial practices, peer review, and journal finances. We have a co-authored book going through the press at the moment.

(from left to right) Professor Marmaduke Salt of the Royal Panopticon of Science (Iwan Morus); Miss Ann Veronica Stanley, learned scientific gentlewoman (Aileen Fyfe); and Mr George Wells, inventor and brother of H.G. (Katy Price). Credit: https://www.oliverlodge.org/2013/09/

The Philosophical Transactions project transformed the sort of researcher I am in ways I did not anticipate. I used to focus on the period from about 1790-1860, but now I range from the 1660s to the current day, and the last paper I published dealt with the 1950s. My medievalist colleagues may think this chronological range is normal, but to me, it seems pretty long! This longer durée allows us to ask different sorts of historical questions, especially about change over time. This has turned out to be really useful, because the other effect of the project has been to involve me in contemporary debates about research evaluation, the fairness of peer review, and the campaigns for open access publishing. Over the past five years, I’ve spoken at gatherings of publishing industry representatives and policy makers as much, if not more often, than at academic history conferences. And in those contexts, being willing and able to talk about the ‘big picture’—and to connect the past to the present day—is essential. My briefing paper, Untangling Academic Publishing (2017), has been read by far more people—and far more widely—than any of my regular academic writings.

The nature of my research encourages reflection on my own experiences as an academic, whether I’m undertaking public engagement (usually about the Victorians and their technologies) or exploring evidence for gender bias in the research communities of the past. I personally have found academia to offer a great deal of flexibility and personal autonomy, which is very useful to a woman with children in a dual-career household; but I know that this was not true historically, nor is it true for everyone today. That’s why I’ve been involved in various projects to support women academics (such as Academic Women Now! and Academic Women Here!), and why I’m currently working with colleagues and students to investigate the historical experiences of the women who studied, researched, and taught History in our own university. It’s still in the early stages, but we look forward to sharing some of the findings next year!

Spatialising the Modern: The Frankfurt Kitchen and its Gendered Work Politics

Blog written by Dr Claudia Kreklau. Dr Kreklau is an Associate Lecturer at the University of St Andrews. Her research interests include Food History, Modern Germany, and Women/Gender/Sexuality.

Dr Claudia Kreklau

In 1924, Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) designed the modern kitchen. This kitchen was a single room designed for a worker, presumably a woman. As one of few well-explored early-twentieth-century woman architects, Schütte-Lihotzky’s work, politics, and feminism have attracted a good deal of attention, usually of a rather critical nature. She has been accused of relegating the female worker into domestic cooking spaces and enabling their Tayloresque exploitation, having no knowledge of housework, and not being enough of a feminist. A spatial analysis of Schütte-Lihotzky’s design with attention to the prehistory of the kitchen in central Europe in my most recent article suggests, however, that while the Viennese designer could by no means remedy the dominating middle-class gender ideals of her time, her design of the ‘Frankfurt Kitchen’ reflects her aim to spatially streamline the labor of the woman worker in the context of the deteriorating political and economic climate of post-war central Europe.

Schütte-Lihotzky was the only woman to join the city of Frankfurt’s design programme ‘The New Frankfurt’, which was tasked with remedying the post-war living-space squalor of Weimar Germany. Her contribution—the kitchen—achieved two things: one, it guaranteed a minimum of sanitation, hygiene, and air quality as well as ventilation and lower humidity for the lower strata of society; two, it provided women working domestically with a room of their own.

Figures 1, 2, 3: Three views of Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen. Courtesy of the EM Haus Website: https://ernst-may-gesellschaft.de/mayhaus/frankfurter-kueche.html

Schütte-Lihotzky’s design changes were small but significant. The architect built a desk and chair into the centre of the kitchen under the kitchen’s window, allowing the working woman to sit or rest. Until that point, central European kitchens had been largely devoid of permanent seating areas, forcing workers to remain standing. When a worker in a kitchen sat down in nineteenth-century depictions, they did so on a temporary stool for such purposes as plucking a chicken, not to write, read, or rest. She included plumbing, a metal sink with two compartments—one for washing, one for rinsing to support hygiene ideals—collapsible workspaces, and storage facilities for crockery on the walls as well as in fitted cupboards, a standard feature of many kitchens in the twentieth century. Finally, she made space for a removable iron stove that could be easily replaced should technology advance (and was easier to clean than the brick-and-mortar ovens of the previous century). The room was accessed via two doors. The original design still stands, albeit in renovated form, in the Ernst May Haus Museum in contemporary Frankfurt am Main.

In some ways, Schütte-Lihotzky’s design presents the historian with a host of social work specific and politically gendered assumptions encoded in brick and mortar, reflected in the architecture and spatial organisation of her kitchen. Some have noted that Schütte-Lihotzky planned the Frankfurt kitchen ‘exclusively’ as a workspace. Others have associated her design with ‘Taylorism’ and highlighted its prioritisation of effectiveness, comparing the architect’s actions to producing ‘factory’ conditions. Yet others noted that although the lone and isolated housewife’s tasks were varied, in contrast to repetitive Fordist production conditions, Schütte-Lihotzky’s architecture still relegated women to a role similar to that of factory workers. It is finally often pointed out that she had never cooked or managed a household before joining the Frankfurt Housing project; these formulations accuse her of studying and reducing women to exploited labourers in the domestic sphere.

While criticisms of exploitative gendered domesticity are indeed necessary, Schütte-Lihotzky’s critics omit that the architect sought to buttress the difficult everyday life of working women whose economic and political context she could not change. After six decades of a rise in gendered domesticity, the design provided a degree of independence for work—practical and mental—as well as rest for the working woman, within the parameters of contemporary social-democratic economics and gendered politics. Schütte-Lihotzky, argued: ‘My work was based on the idea of women who worked and not in cooking itself’ [emphasis added]. Ample space was a luxury, which meant the designer had to use the reduced available area effectively. The placement of the chair by the window and the two opaque doors in turn broke any hypothetical panoptic supervision by removing the housewife from the outside gaze. Women could sit at a window and gaze outside—the act of seeing in itself an exercise of power and consumption. Having the option to close a door allowed the food worker to control this space without outward supervision.

Schütte-Lihotzky operated under the understanding that leftist party politics would cater to working women’s needs; they did not. The city council for which she worked was tied to the Social Democratic party, which failed to champion gendered egalitarianism and prioritised male workers’ rights. Her kitchen design thus reflects a social democratic feminist negotiation within general party lines at the time: a spatial construction which sought to give the female worker a room of her own, even as it embraced rather than problematised labour from the perspective of a leftist worker. She argued she ‘had never concerned [her]self with cooking in my life. Nowadays this is seen as feminist but it was not feminist at all’. Instead, cooking was a practical necessity, a task which should not be gendered, but instead should foment solidarity among workers across the genders irrespective of spatial location. That the party failed to ratify this silent gendered workers’ contract and recognise women as workers equally was not a dimension for which the architect carried blame. Neither did Schütte-Lihotzky assume that women would not hold professional occupations outside the home. The effectiveness she aimed to facilitate in kitchens aimed less at exploiting women than at helping them survive the demands on their time.

Figure 4: Removable iron stove-top combination in the Frankfurt Kitchen. Courtesy of the EM Haus Website: https://ernst-may-gesellschaft.de/mayhaus/frankfurter-kueche.html

In my most recent article, I examine the gendered prehistory of kitchen work in central Europe—with unexpected findings. In central Europe the kitchen was not always gendered, or even necessarily a room. Elites in the nineteenth century in general preferred to employ men, making the many rooms which castles dedicated for cooking and food preparation preferentially male domains. Workers and poorer rural populations in turn often lived in single-room homes, where kitchen areas were inseparable from living, working, or resting areas—meaning that there was no room to gender the space. It was primarily the middle-class with its gendered domestic ideals after the 1860s and their idealised nineteenth-century Roman architectural designs who championed the idea of gendered domesticity in a single room and successfully spread the ideal throughout society. The notion that women’s work should unfold in a private feminine sphere rather than in a masculine public sphere coincided with a drop in house-staff numbers due to industrialisation, which forced middle-class women to take on more household tasks.

Schütte-Lihotzky’s ‘Frankfurt Kitchen’ deeply affected twentieth-century western kitchens which derived modernist spatial design elements from this architectural nexus. I argue that this did not solidify the success of the idea of a kitchen as a gendered room. Politics and society had already solidified this work allocation by 1900 in central Europe and elsewhere. Instead, contemporaries and scholars have been spatially blind to the surreptitious nuances of her work and texts to contest the broken gender relations of her period and its leftist politics through architecture. More recent designs since 1924, in turn, from studios and lofts to open-concept kitchens, continue to renegotiate and destabilise the limits and limitations of our spatial, gendered, public and private ideas, ideals and practices—in the unexpected shape of brick and mortar.


Postgraduate Spotlight: Maria Zukovs

Blog written by first-year PhD student Maria Zukovs. Maria’s research focuses on Irish press reactions to the French Revolution. You can follow her on Twitter @m_zukovs.

Maria was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Her passion for history arose at the young age of four when she discovered the story of RMS Titanic and grew from there. Despite being engineers, her parents always encouraged her to follow her own interests. Her grandfather also played an important role in nurturing Maria’s love of history by teaching her about Ireland, his home country, from a young age.

Maria began studying history in 2011 at the University of Toronto, where she majored in history and Celtic studies. Her experiences in the Celtic studies programme solidified her love of Irish history and culture. Following her graduation from the University of Toronto in 2015, she immediately pursued an M.A. at Western University in London, Ontario. There she explored settler-colonialism in seventeenth-century Ireland through the lens of Bardic poetry. As history is often written by those in power, this research sought to understand perceptions of colonialism through the eyes of the colonised. After completing her M.A., she took a break from academia and went on to complete a certificate in museum studies. After working several jobs in culture and heritage, she realised she missed doing historical research. Leaving the world of art galleries behind, she looked to Scotland.

Her current research, under the supervision of Professor Andrew Pettegree, focuses on Irish press reactions to the French Revolution. This topic brings together Maria’s two main historical passions: Irish history and the French Revolution. She examines newspapers published in late eighteenth-century Dublin and how their coverage of the French Revolution may have impacted Irish society at that time. Much of the scholarly focus for this period of Irish history has been on figures like Theobald Wolfe Tone, organisations like the Society of United Irishmen, and the 1798 rebellion. In particular, the United Irishmen’s relationship with France has been the subject of several in-depth studies. However, despite there being a significant number of newspapers printed in Dublin during the period of the French Revolution, there have been few studies about them, their contents, and the role the press played in spreading news of the Revolution. Going through these newspapers, she will examine what reports on the French Revolution looked like, what information was being disseminated to the public at the time, and how accurate those reports were. The government response to this press coverage (legislation, libel cases against proprietors) plays a key role in understanding whether these reports on the French Revolution were seen as a threat to Irish society.

Outside of academia Maria is a horror film enthusiast who has been told she makes excellent bread. When she is not playing with the neighbourhood cats, she is knitting sweaters and hosting Jeopardy nights with her friends. She also enjoys playing the violin, which she has been doing since the age of nine. Since moving to Scotland, she has discovered an interest in walking and hiking, mainly along the Coastal Path. She welcomes recommendations on any paths she should check out.

Publication Spotlight: Politics and the Slavic Languages

Blog written by Dr Tomasz Kamusella. Dr Kamusella is an interdisciplinary historian of modern central and eastern Europe, with a focus on language politics and nationalism. Politics and the Slavic Languages is now available for pre-order from Routledge.

Dr Tomasz Kamusella

During the last two centuries, ethnolinguistic nationalism has been the norm of nation building and state building in Central Europe. The number of recognised Slavic languages (in line with the normative political formula of language = nation = state) gradually tallied with the number of the Slavic nation-states, especially after the breakups of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. But in the current age of borderless cyberspace, regional and minority Slavic languages are freely standardised and used, even when state authorities disapprove. As a result, since the turn of the nineteenth century, the number of Slavic languages has varied widely, from a single Slavic language to as many as forty.

During my years in academia, I have run into questions about methodology and language classification regularly. While working in the Institute of East Slavonic Philology (Instytut Filologii Wschodniosłowiańskiej) at Opole University in Opole, Upper Silesia, Poland, I had an enlightening discussion with a master’s student who was completing her thesis on the East Slavic language of Rusyn. This student told me that she was a bit apprehensive about the research seminar where she was expected to present her research at later that day. In order to ease her into the flow of the required scholarly discourse, I was interested to hear her opinion on the salient differences between the categories of language and dialect. Soon we came to the conclusion that there is no linguistic basis for distinguishing between these two terms. Extralinguistic factors—such as political decisions—are responsible for according one speech variety the status of a language and another of a dialect. From the perspective of linguistics, such decisions are arbitrary and mainly reflect the power relations extant in the human groups concerned. Usually, in the West, a polity’s dominant group (typically, with its power center located in a polity’s capital) poses its speech as a language, which subsequently is standardised through writing and is often declared the sole legal medium of written and oral communication in public. In turn, speech varieties of non-dominant (‘regional’) groups residing across this polity are classified as dialects of the dominant group’s language. Political domination is translated into sociolinguistic and conceptual domination of the top group over subordinate ones, though members of the latter can try to renegotiate their subaltern status by situationally switching between the dominant group’s state language and their own ‘dialects’ (or ‘non-languages’).

We had a really good conversation that cleared a lot of methodological confusion. At least it appeared so. When I met the same master’s student a week later I asked her how the seminar went. Her mood was a bit subdued. She explained that ‘for the sake of objectivity’ her supervisor had asked her to refrain from using the term ‘language’ in reference to Rusyn. The student was coaxed to speak about Rusyn as a dialect of the Ukrainian language. She was pragmatic and followed the supervisor’s suggestion. It was time for the student to graduate and get a job. There was nothing to gain from arguing about the ‘obscure methodological point,’ otherwise the defense of the student’s thesis could have been delayed, or even not permitted. No one in her shoes would risk such problems over a mere question of terminology.

In this way, as required by ethnolinguistic nationalism typical to central Europe, universities in this region make sure that the unpacked black box of language and the unquestioned dogma of the nation pass swiftly from one generation to another. A thinly veiled threat of ‘problems’ or the inability to graduate is usually sufficient to put any intellectually adventurous students back in line. But questions of language classification continued to interest me and led to researching and writing my new monograph Politics and the Slavic Language. Through the story of Slavic languages, my book illustrates that decisions on what counts as a language are neither permanent nor stable, arguing that the politics of language is the politics in Central Europe.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Manon Williams

Blog written by Manon Williams. Manon is a first-year PhD student. Her research examines how medical knowledge was constructed at sea among surgeons in the British and French navies

Manon is a first year PhD in Modern History under the supervision of Dr Sarah Easterby-Smith and Professor Aileen Fyfe. Her doctoral research, funded by a Wolfson Postgraduate Scholarship in the Humanities, explores how medical knowledge was constructed and implemented at sea among surgeons in the British Royal Navy. Using naval medical journals from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, her thesis examines how surgeons applied various contemporary medical theories to different patient populations. She is especially interested in the role of medical bias, including how patients were categorised based on preconceived or constructed notions of disease susceptibility and transmissibility.

After an undergraduate degree focused on late antiquity, a master’s degree in medieval history, and a brief interlude as a research assistant in a paediatric hospital, Manon has inexplicably yet irrevocably landed on late-eighteenth-century naval medicine. She likes to think that her previous study of hermits and monks has some bearing on her current research, but in general it was her experience analysing data in a paediatric infectious diseases department that brought forward many of the questions that drive her research. After nearly two years of analysing patient data, she realised how powerful of a story those data points could tell once interpreted and contextualised. In her search for historical records of patient data, Manon discovered the National Archive’s collection of naval surgeons’ journals (series ADM 101) and fell into a world of poisonous fruits and arachnids, death by lightning and battle, and the devastating effects of tropical diseases. By analysing various illnesses and comparing their treatment in different geographic locations and among different patient populations, Manon hopes to identify how prevailing medical theories informed patient care and shaped modern clinical practice.

Raised by a family of architects and engineers, Manon’s passion for history has often perplexed relatives whose experiences with the discipline consisted mainly of rote memorization and monotone lectures. Undeterred, Manon has spent nearly a decade trying to convince her friends and family that history is a fascinating subject requiring deep critique and contextualisation. To Manon, history teaches empathy, introspection, and awareness. Whether discussing medieval saints or eighteenth-century sailors, Manon’s drive is to find ways to make history interesting, engaging, and approachable to all. She is looking forward to taking this time during her PhD to explore opportunities with public engagement and public history.

Originally from Denver, Colorado, Manon has happily exchanged her 300 days of sunshine a year for a PhD on the windy east coast of Scotland. After an undergraduate semester abroad in Edinburgh, she is excited to be back and looks forward to exploring the country further. When not buried deep in a monograph or computer screen, Manon enjoys bicycle rides, long walks in nature, photography, games, and gardening. This summer’s task is to figure out how to grow vegetables in a new climate. She hopes that the excess of moisture, compared to semi-arid Colorado, will make up for the loss of sunshine. Any tips are most welcome.

History in the Making: PhD Student Jonathan Gibson on his Mastermind quiz appearances and enduring love of history

Blog written by second-year PhD student Jonathan Gibson. Jonathan is currently a contestant on BBC Two’s Mastermind quiz. You can follow him on Twitter @jgib1996 and watch him compete on the Mastermind Grand Final on 26 April.

I first came to St Andrews in 2017 as an M.Litt. student in Early Modern History, having previously done my undergraduate degree at Magdalen College, Oxford. I am now in the second year of my Ph.D. here at St Andrews. Since my final undergraduate year, my focus has been on the period of the British revolution and the interregnum, and particularly the ways in which radically opposed constitutional visions were mediated through institutions of dialogue and debate. Having previously written about the Army debates at Putney, and about the operation of parliamentary orders in the Protectoral Parliaments, I am currently interested in the rhetorical trope of ‘plain speaking’ and its particular relevance to the language of Cromwellian politics.

However, in the last few weeks I have perhaps become somewhat better known, at least on certain corners of Twitter, as ‘that lanky nerd who looks like he’s just funnelled a case of Red Bull’ through my appearances on the BBC quiz show Mastermind. I have been a quizzer for most of my life, from falling in love with The Weakest Link as a child, to now competing alongside the very best in several national and global quiz leagues (even more now that they’re all on Zoom!). In my latest exploit, having won first my heat and now my semi-final, I have been lucky enough to reach the Mastermind Grand Final, which will be broadcast on BBC2 at 8 p.m. this coming Monday, 26 April.

For about as long as I can remember, history and quiz have been my twin driving passions. I have no idea which came first. In many ways, the correlation feels fairly natural. Both as a historian and as a quizzer, I love the fact that there is always more to learn. The canon is never fixed, or at least it never should be, and the greater the diversity of voices involved in developing theses or setting questions, the more exciting and surprising the task of responding to them becomes. I also love that both occupations involve a constant process of forming intellectual connections. Every quizzer knows that two facts which are related to each other, particularly in a creative or unexpected way, are far easier to remember than one discrete fact without context, just as many of the most exhilarating historical theses involve juxtaposing a familiar story with a novel disciplinary framework, a neglected body of sources, or a broader chronological or transnational development. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve got a lot better and had a lot more fun at both when I’ve been supported by a community of teammates and friends, sharing new facts, pooling collective knowledge, and being inspired to rise to higher and higher levels.

Admittedly, the more quizzes I do, the more I am reminded of the vast swathes of knowledge, particularly historical knowledge, of which I remain embarrassingly ignorant. I still remember the first pub quiz I ever did, where, as five first-year history undergrads, our academic confidence took an early knock when we achieved our worst score of the night on the history round (for what it’s worth, we still won the quiz, aided largely by our knowledge of early noughties girl groups and ‘80s tennis players!). But the joy of quiz, like the joy of academia, is that there will always be unexplored territory, always a question that you can’t answer this time but will the next, always the potential to get better. And for as long as I can continue chasing those unanswered questions, I can’t see myself ever tiring of either.

Staff Spotlight: Felicity Hill

Blog written by Dr Felicity Hill. Dr Hill’s research is focused on social and religious history. Her forthcoming book, Excommunication in Thirteenth-Century England: Community, Politics and Publicity (Oxford University Press), examines the social, political and spiritual consequences of the medieval church’s most severe sanction. 

Dr Felicity Hill

I came to St Andrews at the start of 2019 as a lecturer in medieval history, leaving a postdoc at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Before that I was based in London and have degrees from Manchester, UCL, and University of East Anglia. I’m currently in the final stages of turning my PhD thesis into a book—fingers crossed it’ll come out next year.

The book looks at the practice of excommunication in thirteenth-century England. Excommunication was the church’s most powerful weapon, and it affected everyone from popes, kings and emperors to artisans, peasants, monks, nuns and priests. Children couldn’t be excommunicated, but they would witness announcements of excommunication sentences (which were made in vernacular languages rather than Latin). All sorts of offences could result in excommunication. Some were very serious (murder), others far less so (nicking some herbs). A considerable proportion involved injuring clerics or clerical property. Buying a baby in order to pass it off as someone else’s heir or simply being Scottish could get you excommunicated in thirteenth-century Britain.

My book is a social and political history, focusing on what it meant to be excommunicated and the consequences for people at all levels of society. Because enforcement was in the hands of the community, which was supposed to ostracise excommunicates, the effects of excommunication were by no means limited to the individual. People reacted in all sorts of ways. ‘We’d rather go to hell than give in’ is one of my favourite rejections (in a dispute about taxes). Others said that they thought their excommunications were unfair and that they were willing to take their chances with God. Most people, however, did reconcile with the church by seeking absolution sooner or later. Excommunicates were, however, angry about the publicity that accompanied excommunication – constant denunciations that painted excommunicates as ‘sons of Belial’, ‘limbs of the devil’, ‘satellites of Satan’, forcefully condemning their actions and damaging their reputations. Bad press, rather than any shunning, was the worst part. I am particularly interested how sentences were publicised: excommunication was an early form of mass communication.

While there is a lot of information about excommunicates—bishops’ registers in particular provide so much rich material about people’s lives—we have very incomplete records for some types of analysis. One of the things I am asked most often is how many people were excommunicated. It’s a question I cannot answer. Any attempt to give a sense is made difficult by the huge gulf between the assumptions of medieval historians and everyone else. Many people tend to think that excommunication must have been very serious in the Middle Ages and so have been rare, so I need to explain that it was used quite routinely and certainly wasn’t exceptional. Amongst medievalists, on the other hand, the idea that excommunication was overused and so of little interest has taken hold. This is too far: excommunication had fascinating and important effects for individuals, communities and politics.

When not teaching or working on my book, my COVID-year has involved a lot of (unplanned) DIY. It’s been a good lockdown distraction and provided a change of scenery when we’re not allowed to go anywhere (painting especially). As much as I’m pleased with my new-found skills, I am very much looking forward to returning to the pub garden this summer.

Publication Spotlight: Roma Voices in History

Blog written by Professor Elena Marushiakova. Prof Marushiakova is a Research Professor in Modern History. Her new book Roma Voices in History, co-authored with Professor Veselin Popov, is now available with Brill.

Over the past two decades, the Roma issue has become one of the most current topics in the European public space and has become especially relevant in academia. Despite this, there are still numerous research topics that remain uncharted. One of these is the history of the Roma (formerly referred to as ‘Gypsies’ in local languages) in the period between WWI and WWII and the appearance and development of social and political projects proposed by Roma themselves. Together with my co-author and husband Veselin Popov, we have worked for over 40 years in the field of Romani Studies, during which time we developed an ambitious goal to fill in this gap. This became possible thanks to the ERC advanced grant for a research project entitled ‘RomaInterbellum. Roma civic emancipation between the two World Wars’.

Our previous research convinced us that one of the biggest mistakes made in the research of Roma has been to view them as a ‘people apart’, or a people without history and fatherland. And yet, Roma do not live isolated on an uninhabited island—they exist in two dimensions, both as separate ethnic communities and as a part of the society in which they live within their respective nation-states. The chosen historical period (the interwar) is the time when Roma, together with the majorities in the countries in which they lived, experienced breakdowns of old Empires and the establishment of national states. On the vast territories which would become the Soviet Union they were included in the building of a new political system. In this time span, Roma started to be politically institutionalised and subjected to a variety of controversial policy practices.

Prof Elena Marushiakova

We look at Roma not only as passive recipients of policy measures but also as active architects of their lives, so the aim has been, alongside studying pieces of evidence reflecting state policies regarding Roma, to collect written heritage of Roma visionaries whose published and unpublished texts reflect the main stages in the development of the Roma movement and represent its different aspirations. The overall project looks at Roma as an inseparable part of mainstream history and Roma socio-political visions as part of the history of modern political thought in Europe. In this respect, the first outcome of this project, Roma Voices in History, reflects and implements this perspective.

Apart from academic curiosity and our conviction in the importance of the topic, the reason for writing this book was a reaction to existing prejudices about the inequality of Roma with other European nations, alongside which they have lived for centuries. We repeatedly hear statements about the lack of written sources concerning the history of the Roma. We also repeatedly hear about the lack of archival material concerning the history of the Roma, material which when it does exist takes the form of police reports wherein Roma are presented merely as violators of law. Through this, Roma are most often viewed as passive objects of different state policies rather than as active creators of their own history. Because scholars do not often seek to discover sources written by Roma, the Roma point of view has de facto been absent, while the reaction of the Roma themselves (or lack thereof) to the policies implemented towards them, as well as their visions about the future of their communities, has been almost totally neglected.

Prof Veselin Popov

Our research, however, has proven that the opposite is true. It appears that source materials are, in fact, extremely numerous, and many of them represent the voice of the Roma themselves while also presenting the visions and the specific goals pursued by the Roma civic emancipation movement.  It is precisely this which is revealed in the book Roma Voices in History.

Together with a team of colleagues, we have discovered an extensive collection of primary historical sources in various languages representing original Roma voices from across the vast region of Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe. This is the region in which numerous Roma communities have settled for centuries and which represents an inseparable part of the societies they inhabit. Much like any other nation in the region, the Roma experienced processes of nation-building during the Interwar period, a time when their national elite came into being and the establishment of national literature and press can be noted. All these shifts are clearly presented in our book by highlighting the most important source materials to reflect the broader process of Roma civic emancipation. These materials are published in the book both in their original language and their English translation, accompanied by explanatory notes and summarising comments. The notes and comments, alongside the original sources themselves, aim to discuss the specific historical realities and their interrelation to the Romani emancipatory movement in Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe, thus presenting a comprehensive picture of the historical processes that shaped it.  

Publication Spotlight: Political Advice: Past, Present and Future

Blog written by Prof Colin Kidd and Dr Jacqueline Rose. Their new book Political Advice: Past, Present and Future is now available from Bloomsbury.

‘Could you give me some advice?’ is a question we have all asked at various times in our lives. But whom do we ask? When do we turn to a person that we feel we can trust, a friend we can confide in, somebody with experience and expertise in a particular area, or someone whose job it is to advise on such matters? Such questions are daunting. But how much more fraught for political leaders, who take decisions on crucial matters far beyond their knowledge base, is the selection of appropriate advisers.

Few would dispute the need for political advice, yet it has a remarkable propensity to cause problems. Is the leader listening to enough people? To the right people? Are they listening at all? Do they have to? Can they be made to and, if so, would this be by formally constraining them to hear advice or by changing the way in which that counsel is presented? There are certain functions that advice perennially performs—compensating for a leader’s limited knowledge, time, and (occasionally) abilities; balancing long-term objectives with crises that require immediate attention; resolving conflicts and extracting consent; providing support in the lonely and dauntingly burdensome business of governing. Yet the mechanisms for managing it have varied over time and space. Indeed, what works for one president or prime minister may be disastrous for their successor: some respond well to rigidly structured advice, others thrive in a seemingly undisciplined atmosphere in which they receive multiple pieces of conflicting counsel.

Dr Jacqueline Rose

It was with the aim of reflecting on these themes that we embarked on what became Political Advice: Past, Present and Future. Somewhat embarrassingly for a pair of historians, we can’t pinpoint its precise beginning and causes. But it may have had something to do with conversations about Joan Quigley, the Reagans’ astrologer, an adviser on auspicious dates whose role, originally revealed by a disgruntled former chief of staff, proved to be a revealing way into the politics of counsel in the late-twentieth century White House. The themes of formal vs informal advice, access and influence, and the interplay of personal trust with official constitutional structures, seemed to be ones offering excellent opportunities for dialogue across periods and disciplines.

Assembling a team of interdisciplinary contributors from academia and public life, we began with a day-long workshop in the ‘Public Life’ series at All Souls College, Oxford, settling on a date of 8 June 2017. As it turned out, we were not the only ones for whom 8 June 2017 ended up being an important day, for it was the one that the then-prime minister, Theresa May, chose as the date for a snap general election. The aftermath of that election included the high-profile removal of May’s joint chiefs of staff, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. Media attention to the vicissitudes of advice in the Trump White House, the advent of Dominic Cummings as a key adviser to Boris Johnson, and a steady stream of reports about projects to reform Whitehall kept political advice constantly in the news during the period in which our volume took shape.

Prof Colin Kidd

Even as we put the final touches to the introduction in early 2020, conflicts over ministerial control of special advisers and civil service reform were still making headlines. We thought we were up to date in including a mention of Sajid Javid’s resignation letter, which urged the importance of advice. It’s just as well, therefore, that we expressed ‘the characteristic historian’s caution about predicting tomorrow’s headlines’ in the acknowledgements (dated February 2020). For the volume ended up being dispatched on one of the last days before we moved to working from home. In the early weeks of lockdown, it looked like the politics of advice had vanished from view. A year later, less so. At the point of publication, the other forecast in our acknowledgements—that ‘future events will continue to generate stories about political advice’—holds true. Indeed, the still-unfolding story about who gave what advice to whom and when during the pandemic demonstrates the vital and contested role of political advice—past, present, and future.

Staff Spotlight: Felicity Loughlin

Blog written by Dr Felicity Loughlin. Dr Loughlin is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of St Andrews, where she is working on the ‘Learning & Unbelief’ strand of the After the Enlightenment project. Her research and teaching interests lie in the intellectual, cultural and religious history of Scotland and Europe, c.1650–c.1850.

I came to St Andrews as a postdoctoral Research Fellow in September 2018. I’ve spent over two happy years here as part of the After the Enlightenment project team. Before that, I was a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, where I wrote my thesis on the Scottish Enlightenment’s fascination with ‘pagan’ (non-Abrahamic) religious cultures. I’m now working on transforming my thesis into my first book, The Scottish Enlightenment Confronts the Gods: Paganism & the Nature of Religion.

More generally, I’m fascinated by the history of religious belief, which has profoundly shaped how individuals view the world and their place within it. I’m especially interested in how religious thought and ideas about religion have contributed to long-term patterns of intellectual and cultural change. Joining the After Enlightenment project has allowed me to pursue these interests in the context of nineteenth-century Scotland.

The project aims to explore Scottish intellectual life, c.1789–1843, reconstructing the legacies of the Scottish Enlightenment’s debates in three fundamental areas: natural philosophy, political economy, and religion. My contribution belongs to the religion strand and focuses on unbelief. Working with a variety of colourful material (anti-infidel apologetics, freethinking newspapers, court records, catalogues of infidel bookshops, and scientific, literary, theological, and historical writings), my research seeks to answer several interlocking questions. What did unbelief mean in the early nineteenth century? How far did unbelievers continue the religious debates of the Scottish Enlightenment? In what ways did they take unbelief in new directions? And how did infidelism, and the civil and ecclesiastical responses it elicited, transform the Scottish religious landscape?

Pamphlet produced in 1824 by the Edinburgh Freethinkers’ Zetetic Society, found in the National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh. Credit: Felicity Loughlin

Strikingly, unbelievers are at present almost entirely absent from existing historiography on nineteenth-century Scotland. Yet from the 1820s, unbelievers of various stripes – including sceptics, deists, and atheists – acquired unprecedented visibility in Scotland’s urban communities. Freethinking societies were formed in numerous towns and cities, attracting hundreds of members from the middling and lower classes, and infidel bookshops appeared in Glasgow and Edinburgh, prompting the last blasphemy trials in Scottish history. Numerous scientific and literary works were also accused of endorsing or fomenting unbelief, including the writings of the phrenologist George Combe (1788–1858), the writer Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), and the publisher Robert Chambers (1802–71). Christian thinkers engaged actively with the perceived rise of unbelief, responding diversely with abhorrence, qualified respect, or sympathy. Strikingly, shared commitment to issues such as freedom of speech, ultimately led to tentative alliances between certain religious and non-religious groups. Debates on religion were often framed in highly emotive language, and I’ve recently become especially interested in probing the emotional as well as intellectual factors that determined changing belief positions and relations between believers and unbelievers.

Outside of work, I very much enjoy walking along the coastal and forest paths of the beautiful Fife countryside. I’m also an enthusiastic (if rather unskilled) knitter, an activity that became particularly attractive in the cold winter months. A great advantage of living in the vicinity of St Andrews is proximity to its excellent selection of cafés, and I very much look forward to partaking of their tea and cakes once again when they reopen!