Staff Spotlight: Nikolaos Papadogiannis

Blog written by Dr Nikolaos Papadogiannis. Dr Papadogiannis is an Associate Lecturer in the School of History and his research focuses on Europe in the 1960s and 1970s from a transnational perspective. You can follow him on Twitter @NikolaosPapado7.

I was born and brought up in Thessaloniki, Greece. The colourful historic maps that my parents stored in my room triggered my interest in history from an early age. I went on to study History at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. I did my PhD in History at the University of Cambridge, and I subsequently worked as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the Humboldt University of Berlin. I worked at the School of History between 2014 and 2017, and I re-joined in 2021. Between 2017 and 2021, I was a Lecturer in Modern History at Bangor University.

Overall, and to an extent inspired by my transnational life, my research takes an approach that combines transnational and social history. My first monograph, Militant around the clock? Youth Politics, Leisure and Sexuality in post-dictatorship Greece was published in 2015 by Berghahn Books. The book contributes to the recent tendency in the study of transitions from dictatorship to democracy in Southern Europe in the mid-1970s to explore political and socio-cultural transformations in conjunction. It demonstrates that power asymmetries were challenged after the collapse of the militaristic regime in Greece in 1974 in a wide range of fields. These included the administration of educational and cultural institutions as well as gender and sexual relations in everyday life. Such struggles were often interconnected and reinforced one another. Nevertheless, instead of ever-growing democratisation of the institutions and everyday life patterns, what transpired was a complex process: authoritarian residues were both subverted and reinforced. Simultaneously, my book shows that transnational flows of ideas, people, and cultural patterns shaped protest subjects in Greece in 1974-1981. Building on the work of sociologist Robert Robertson, my book argues that Greek activists developed a ‘glocal’ attitude: they selectively received and recontextualised protest patterns that had appeared in several regions of the globe.

While working at the University of St Andrews in 2014-17, I was fortunate enough to further develop my approach to transnational and social history. I benefitted immensely from the research events and informal discussions with the Institute of Transnational and Spatial History members, of which I was also briefly a co-director between August 2016 and January 2017. As a result, my research angle expanded: it does not only explore the impact of transnational flows on social relations in Greece; rather, my work now takes a transnational, comparative, and social history approach to the study of West Germany and Greece. Such an approach informs my current book-length project, on which I started working in 2014. This project investigates the interlinks between changes in sexual norms and practices in West Germany and Greece in the 1960s and 1970s. Simultaneously, my current research considers both mainstream tendencies in sexuality and the sexual patterns of under-researched groups, such as transgender individuals, migrant factory workers, and sex workers.

Upon returning to the School of History in 2021, I helped create alongside Rosalind Parr a reading group on the histories of sexuality. The reading group is also running in 2021-22 and is happy to recruit new members who would love to explore studies of sexuality covering all eras and regions. If interested, please feel free to contact Rosalind or me! Meanwhile, while building on my work on the histories of activism and sexuality, I have expanded to medical humanities. In this vein, my new, AHRC-funded project on transnational AIDS activism in Western Europe in the 1980s-1990s will study the connectivity among AIDS activists in West Germany, Greece, the UK, and Italy. It aims to help refine relevant research, which mainly explores AIDS-related campaigns within the confines of nation-states in this period.

While happily interacting with other researchers in conferences and, more recently, via Microsoft Teams and Zoom, I would like my research to have an impact also beyond academia. In this vein, I have been developing activities that address policymakers and civil society associations in Scotland. These activities amount to an impact case study that is premised on the idea that the encounters among Southern European migrants, other migrants, and the non-foreign-born Scots living in Edinburgh are mutually beneficial. Showcasing this contribution is critical in the context of Brexit and the coronavirus crisis: Southern European migrants have been feeling increasingly uncertain about how the non-foreign-born population views them. To help enhance the social connectivity between the former and the latter, I have designed and delivered activities that showcase productive examples of mutually transforming encounters of Southern European migrants with other residents of Edinburgh. These include Wikipedia entries, such as that on Syn Festival Edinburgh, and the virtual photographic exhibition Coming Together, partially funded by a Small Impact Award from the University of St Andrews.

Outside academia, I love travelling (when Covid-related restrictions permit this!) and spending quality time with my family. I would also love to find the time one day to start playing the oboe again.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Daniel Armstrong

Blog written by PhD student Dan Armstrong. You can follow him on Twitter @historydan1066.

Born and raised in Devon, Dan was fascinated by history from as early as he can remember. Thankfully his parents were willing to indulge this obsession, ferrying him around castles and even allowing him to dig a six-foot deep archaeological test pit in the back garden (though he was made to do it in late autumn so it didn’t interfere with his mum’s veg plot). The coincidence of a shared first name meant that TV historian Dan Snow quickly became his idol, which led to one school classmate making the joke that History = Dan².

Dan began his academic education with an undergraduate degree in History at Downing College, Cambridge (2014-17). Having developed a strong interest in the Middle Ages, he largely specialised in the period and in 2015 won the J.C. Holt Magna Carta Essay Prize for an essay on the charter’s modern relevance. Graduating in 2017 with a Double-First, Dan moved up the east coast to the University of East Anglia where he had been offered AHRC-funding to do a Master’s in Medieval History. Under the supervision of Dr Tom Licence, Dan wrote an MA thesis on ‘The Norman Conquest of England, the Papacy, and the Papal Banner’, which won the Larry Buttler Prize and is due to be published as an article in the Haskins Society Journal later this year.

Dan’s peripatetic academic education continued with a journey even further up the east coast in 2018 to start a PhD at St Andrews under the supervision of Professor John Hudson. Funded by the European Research Council, as part of the project ‘Civil Law, Common Law, Customary Law’, Dan’s thesis is entitled ‘Anglo-Papal Relations, c.1066-c.1135’. In his thesis, Dan intends to make the first comprehensive reassessment of the relationship between the kingdom of England and Rome since Z.N. Brooke’s book written 90 years ago. In particular, he wishes to dismantle the anachronistic scaffolding of conflict between Church and State that still frames our understanding of Anglo-Papal relations. In July 2021, Dan was awarded a Royal Historical Society Centenary Fellowship by the Institute of Historical Research to fund the final six months of his PhD.

Beyond his thesis, Dan has organised two online conferences in 2021: ‘Borders and the Norman World: New Frontiers in Scholarship’ in March and ‘Law in Transmission: The Movement of Practices, Texts and Concepts across Time and Space, c. 400-1500’ in May. He is involved in the organisation of a third conference planned for October on ‘The Papacy and the Periphery, c.1050-c.1300’. Dan is also the Secretary for the Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research and the Social Media Editor for the Journal of Religious History. He has taken part in a couple of outreach initiatives run by the University of St Andrews Public Engagement team, including an ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Medieval History.

Outside of academia, Dan’s main interests are sport and the outdoors. Sadly, his boyhood clubs of Exeter City, Exeter Chiefs, and Somerset County Cricket Club have had an agonising tendency to be the bridesmaid rather than the bride (he’s witnessed 16(!) final defeats/2nd place finishes in the last decade). In a playing capacity, Dan is a particularly keen cricketer, having represented both the University and the Staff and Postgraduate team. He also enjoys football, squash, and road cycling. His move to Scotland, however, has led him to add a new hobby to this list in the form of ‘munro bagging’ (munros are Scottish hills/mountains over 3,000ft). As of the time of writing, he has now ‘bagged’ 78 of the 282 peaks, with particular highlights including trips to Torridon and Skye.

Staff Spotlight: Dimitri Kastritsis

Blog written by Dr Dimitri Kastritsis. Dr Kastritsis’ research focuses on the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, particularly political culture and intellectual history. Dr Kastritsis has published a monograph, as well as a book-length source translation and study: The Sons of Bayezid:  Empire Building and Representation in the Ottoman Civil War of 1402–13 (2007) and An Early Ottoman History: The Oxford Anonymous Chronicle (2017).

Dr Dimitri Kastritsis

I came to St Andrews in 2007. Before that, I did my first degree at the University of Chicago in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and my PhD at Harvard in History and Middle Eastern Studies. My years as a student were followed by postdocs and temporary teaching positions in Georgetown’s study-abroad programme in Turkey, at Harvard, and at Yale. I was very pleased to come to St Andrews, since it is an exceptional place for medieval and early modern history, as well as Middle Eastern studies. Since moving here, I have benefited greatly from my interactions with both colleagues and students. However, like many people at St Andrews, I am often away outside term. As a historian of the Ottoman Empire, I am frequently in Turkey and Greece, as well as the USA, where my wife Amanda Phillips teaches art history at the University of Virginia.

In fact, I am writing these lines in America, where I have been since March 2020 when the Covid pandemic began. At the time I was visiting for spring vacation, and like many of my students who were also away I was able to finish the semester remotely. Then I went on leave, since I was fortunate to be awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, as well as membership at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ for the 2020–21 academic year. Both fellowships were to conduct research on a monograph I am writing about the development of Ottoman historical writing in the fifteenth century. This project grew out of my previous research going back to my doctoral thesis, which focused on the dynastic wars following the Battle of Ankara in 1402, in which Timur (Tamerlane) defeated the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I and dismembered his empire. What fascinated me most was an early Ottoman account of the wars, apparently composed as political propaganda in the court of the winner, Mehmed I (r. 1413–21). This account is a lively epic in Turkish, complete with dialogue in the vernacular of the time, which was obviously written to be read out loud and thus deliver its political messages through the art of storytelling.

The Sons of Bayezid:  Empire Building and Representation in the Ottoman Civil War of 1402–13 (2007)

As I have come to understand in my subsequent research, in the fifteenth century historical literature about real events was largely indistinguishable from epic storytelling. Such stories could also concern the lives of prophets and saints, or such legendary figures as Alexander the Great, who in premodern times was the subject of an enormous literature, popular from western Europe all the way to the Indian Ocean. I have written several article-length studies on this literature, which is known as the Alexander Romance. What I have found is that Alexander was a contested cultural figure in late Byzantium and the early Ottoman Empire, two civilizations that overlapped since one empire succeeded the other. My interest in such cross-cultural connections led me to spend the academic year 2013–14 as a Byzantine Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, a research centre in Washington, DC. For my current project, I am trying to tie together all of these themes and produce a monograph about ideas of the past in the fifteenth century Byzantine-Ottoman world. This was of course the time of the Italian (and lesser-known, Byzantine) Renaissance, famous for a focus on the ancient past. But even though the Ottomans were very much part of this world, since they were busy conquering it and turning it into an Islamic empire, their own perspectives have been largely neglected. At St Andrews, I have been very fortunate to have colleagues with whom to discuss such topics, and even to teach classes on them at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. There are few places in the world where this would have been possible.

An Early Ottoman History: The Oxford Anonymous Chronicle (2017)

When I am in St Andrews during term, I enjoy working in the town and living in the East Neuk, where I can swim year-round in the North Sea and take walks or go running along the coastal trail. When I first came to St Andrews, I ran sprints on the West Sands because it seemed like a great place for that (I had not yet seen the film…). Otherwise I also enjoy cooking, DIY, and various other activities, including repairing old typewriters. In recent years, I have begun to write my rough drafts on these (including this piece) since I find it much more fun and easier to concentrate than on a computer. Of course, this being St Andrews, I eventually learned that some of my students had been doing the same thing, and that there were even colleagues and students in our School researching the history of the typewriter. In my view, it is the main job of historians to provide perspectives on how things were done differently in other cultures and historical periods. In fact, this is what led me to study the Ottoman Empire in the first place. (I grew up in Greece, where the Enlightenment dismissal of the Ottomans as oriental despots was part of the school curriculum). This interest in different perspectives also explains why I enjoy studying texts and foreign languages—during the pandemic, I have been dabbling in Russian and Chinese.

The Typewriter Revolution: An Interview with PhD Student James Inglis on his Exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland

Blog written by Manon Williams, who is going into the second year of her PhD. Manon recently sat down to interview James Inglis about the exhibition he developed with National Museums Scotland: The Typewriter Revolution. James Inglis is co-supervised by Prof Aileen Fyfe (St Andrews), Dr Malcom Petrie (St Andrews) Dr Sam Alberti (National Museums Scotland), and Alison Taubman (National Museums Scotland and the senior curator of the exhibition). James’s research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and included a six-month internship with National Museums Scotland.

James Inglis PhD student at National Museums Scotland and University of St Andrews cleans an Oliver typewriter, 1906 ahead of the exhibition opening. Neil Hanna Photography 07702 246823

The Typewriter Revolution details the rise in popularity of the typewriter as a writing instrument and its influences on Scottish society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The exhibit occupies a gallery space on the third floor of the museum and features a collection of 24 typewriters from the 1850s to the 1980s, accompanied by detailed informational plaques and videos of the typewriters in action (accessed by QR codes). Historic footage of typewriters, as featured in old films and advisements, are projected on the gallery’s walls. Not to be missed are the fantastic pieces of art—all created with typewriters—at the end of the exhibit.

Manon: Can you briefly describe the content and scope of the exhibit for readers who won’t be able to attend the exhibit in person?

James: The exhibition starts with the first patents [of writing machines] in the early eighteenth century and the development of experimental writing machines in the mid-nineteenth century. From the 1870s, you have the first commercially-produced typewriters. The exhibit then traces the development of portable typewriters and electric typewriters through the twentieth century until the 1980s, at which point the personal computer starts to take over. One of the unique things about this exhibition is that it really targets the social history of typewriters in Scotland.

Manon: What do you hope visitors will take away from the exhibit?

James: The main thing [I hope viewers will take away] is that typewriters provided entrepreneurial and business opportunities for women, and not just employment. Most historians have been obsessed with typewriters providing employment to women as typists and that’s gone into popular knowledge as well. You rarely hear about the women who owned and operated rather large and successful businesses. And the other thing, which I think is going to be more obvious, is that typewriters didn’t all just come in one design. A typewriter isn’t necessarily just a machine with a keyboard and a ribbon. The Oxford definition of a typewriter is that it must have keys and a ribbon, but hopefully this exhibition will show that that’s far from the case.

Manon: The exhibit is not only about the typewriters as writing tools and technology, but also a social history of the typewriter in Scotland. Do you have any favourite stories about the people who manufactured or used these technologies?

James: One of my favourites is the story of “Big” John Brady, who worked in the Glasgow Olivetti factory from 1950 to 1982, near when the factory was closing. And that’s really nice because it’s a story of someone who lived in Glasgow all of his life and worked his way up from an apprentice mechanic all the way up to a foreman, supervising the factory’s staff. And the stories all came from his son, who is enthusiastic that his father’s story has gone into this exhibition.

John Deas [a businessman from Dundee] is also really interesting because his enthusiasm for typewriters—and American technologies, generally—made him a central figure in my research. It’s nice to have such a local figure play such a prominent role in the exhibition. [You can read more about John Deas in the Courier’s article here]

Manon: Why do you think typewriters have continued to hold the public’s interest even as technology has moved on?

James: When I’ve put on typewriter exhibits at museum open days before COVID—where you could actually get people to type on them—you get this combination of younger kids who are fascinated by how it works and really like the fact that they can see the operation of the machine in front of them, and simultaneously, the older parents and grandparents would want to talk about their memories and experiences of using these machines.

Among the people that use them, I think there’s a very creative aspect to them. I’ve got a typewriter on my table [right now], and I keep looking at it and thinking to myself, ‘Oh, I really want to write something on it’, but I have no creativity for writing at all, so I just sit there and write out song lyrics because I just really want to use it. It’s an excellent instrument for writing, and I think many users will argue that there is no better tool if you want to just write. Some writers like the restrictions of this technology since you can’t really edit your work, so you don’t spend all day editing one sentence. There’s the added bonus that you can’t get distracted by notifications on your computer, or whatever else.

Manon: What do you think you’ve gained from this experience interning at the National Museum of Scotland?

James: Working collaboratively on this project has been really fun, especially trying to take the academic work that I’ve done and translate that into something that would work for an exhibition. For example, I would want to write thousands of words about every single object, but obviously that’s not going to work for an exhibition. Working with the copy-editors was really helpful. It’s incredible to think about all the effort that has gone into the exhibition text. What is now condensed into 100 words in the exhibition originated from 1,000 words of detailed research. Every phrase, every nuance, has been analysed thoroughly to make sure it can’t be misconstrued.

Manon: Do you have a favourite typewriter in the exhibition?

James: The Lettera 22 [Olivetti], because I own one and they are really nice to write on. It was popular among famous musicians and authors, including Bob Dylan who used one in his flat in Greenwich Village [New York]. They come with a tartan-lined case, which is also pretty great. It’s not the most outrageous-looking one, but it is the most stylish.

The Typewriter Revolution opened the 24th of July 2021. The exhibition has garnered quite a lot of media coverage over the last few weeks with articles in the The Times, Women’s Hour, Reporting Scotland, The Courier, and a front-page feature in The Scotsman. Admittance is free (with pre-booked tickets to the National Museum of Scotland) and will run until April 17th, 2022.

Publication Spotlight: The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt

Blog written by Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker. Dr Firnhaber-Baker is a Senior Lecturer in the School of History. Her research focuses on France between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker

My latest book, The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt, was published by Oxford University Press in the UK on 28 April and in the US on 28 May. The latter date—and I am sure this was a coincidence, not a clever marketing ploy—was the 663rd anniversary of the beginning of the uprising that the book is about. On that long-ago day, hundreds of peasants converged on a village north of Paris and killed nine noblemen, sparking the largest rural revolt that France had ever experienced. Over the next two months, villagers from regions stretching from Normandy to Champagne destroyed the castles and houses of local nobles, robbed them of their contents, and murdered some noblemen and their families. The cities of northern France became involved in the revolt, sheltering rebels, giving them food and supplies, and using the uprising to carry out their own operations against strategic targets or irritating neighbours. But by the middle of June, the nobles recovered the initiative and destroyed massive rebel armies at pitched battles to the north and east of Paris, setting in motion a ‘Counter-Jacquerie’ that would prove far bloodier and more destructive than the revolt itself. 

Although the Jacquerie was relatively brief, it has become a famous episode in medieval history, appearing in specialist works, textbooks, and historical fiction alike. I first read about it in my Advanced Placement European history class in 1993. I suppose I must always have had it in the back of my mind somewhere as an interesting story, but it wasn’t until I came across it again as part of my PhD research that I realized how little historians actually know about the Jacquerie. Just one book, originally published in 1859, had ever been written about it, and only a handful of articles had appeared in the century and a half since. None of this work seemed satisfactory to me, so once I finished my first book, I applied for and won a fellowship from the AHRC to support my own study of the Jacquerie alongside a comparative and collaborative project on medieval revolts that resulted in The Routledge History Handbook of Medieval Revolt, published in 2017.

Because the Jacquerie had been much discussed but little studied, much of what we ‘knew’ about it was actually just speculation. Through years of archival and manuscript research in France, I was able to build a robust picture of the rebels and their victims in their historical context that lays to rest many of the questions and mistaken assumptions that had proliferated. Probably the most important issue my book addresses is the question of why the revolt happened in the first place. Everyone who had ever written about the revolt struggled with this question, inevitably either characterizing it as spontaneous, irrational, and entirely rural, or as carefully planned, politically motivated, and orchestrated by anti-royal rebels in Paris. 

The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt

The evidence is more convincing for the second hypothesis—much of the revolt was well organized and many incidents, including the revolt’s inception, clearly served Parisian interests—but I came to realise that the revolt could not be reduced to a single cause or objective. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people participated in the uprising, each driven by their own interests and experiences. While Parisian objectives and actions played a central role in the revolt, other contributing factors include local and personal relationships, commoners’ resentment toward nobles’ wealth and status in the wake of the Black Death and French defeats during the Hundred Years War, threats from other rebels, and garden-variety greed and aggression.

Perhaps even more important for interpretation than the range of rebels’ interests and experiences is the way that those interests and experiences changed over time as the revolt unfolded in June and July and afterward in the years and decades that followed the revolt when people told the stories that made the sources historians use for their research. One of my book’s main arguments is that the revolt was not a discrete event so much as it was a process that developed over time in messy and unpredictable ways. That process didn’t end with the revolt but continued in the way that people chose to remember—or to forget—it months and years later. What the revolt meant to someone on 28 May 1358 may not have been what she thought about it three weeks later or in 1372, nor would she necessarily have told the story the same way every time and to every person.

A striking thing about the sources for the Jacquerie, which are mostly prosecutions against and pardons for the revolt’s participants, is the way that individual stories about the revolt kept multiplying despite the royal government’s efforts to impose its own standardized version of events. Of course, in writing a book like this, I, too, had to impose my own narrative on what would otherwise have been an unmanageable cacophony of individual accounts. I did make room for conflicting information and alternative interpretations—gargantuan footnotes are a scholar’s best friend in this regard—but I have a keen awareness that one’s own historical moment inescapably shapes analysis. The nineteenth- and twentieth-century historians who wrote about the Jacquerie were demonstrably influenced by their own experiences of revolution and social conflict, perhaps in ways they may not have realised at the time. Having sent the book to press in August 2020, I do wonder what role future historians will think plague, politics, and populism played in my story.

The Jacquerie of 1358: A French Peasants’ Revolt is available from Oxford University Press at a 30% discount using code AAFLYG6 at

Postgraduate Spotlight: James Howe

Blog written by first-year PhD student James Howe. You can follow him on Twitter @JHowe1996.

James was born in London and spent most of his childhood living in Liverpool. From an early age, James was interested in history from the perspective of ordinary people and marginalised groups. This interest was nurtured by weekly visits to the city’s museums dedicated to maritime and military history as well as the transatlantic slave trade. He has tried to study and research history from this perspective throughout his academic career so far.

James first came to St Andrews to study for a BA (Hons) in Modern History in 2015. It was during this degree that he began to explore academic history from below. Through his optional courses, James became interested in the history of travel and tourism, which would inspire much of his later postgraduate work. His undergraduate dissertation used the war memoirs of ordinary working-class soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, analysing their impressions of the countries they travelled through after leaving their birthplaces for the first time in their lives. During this time, he also spent time studying the history (and lived experience) of dictatorship, in particular the Spanish Franco Regime and the Soviet Union. After graduating from St Andrews, he completed an MPhil in Modern European History at Cambridge, submitting a thesis entitled ‘The Experience of British Travellers to the Soviet Union, 1953-1964’. This research explored British travel literature on the Soviet Union, establishing travellers’ impressions of Soviet bureaucracy and propaganda. These books represented both a part of the discourse on Anglo-Soviet relations within Britain as well as historic Western European perceptions of Russia and Eastern Europe.

James couldn’t stay away from St Andrews for long and returned to begin a PhD in 2020. His project is supervised by Dr Kate Ferris and Dr Gillian Mitchell and focuses on the experience of British people who travelled to the dictatorships of Spain and Portugal prior to their respective transitions to democracy. Spain was ruled by General Francisco Franco from his 1939 victory in the Civil War until his death in 1975. The Portuguese Estado Novo (New State) was established in 1933 and lasted until the Carnation Revolution in 1974, which for the majority of this time was administered by António de Oliveira Salazar. British people travelled to these nations for a wide variety of reasons, on coach tours, new package holidays, as well as to work or study as part of university or government exchange programmes. The project is centred on oral history interviews which James hopes to begin conducting over the coming months. His PhD examines the presentation of Spain and Portugal as travel destinations to British people by both commercial and state-operated agencies. The material produced by these entities will be used as the project’s printed primary source base to be compared with the oral testimonies. Ultimately, his project contributes to the discourse on ordinary life during the late period of the Iberian dictatorships, as well as the ways in which travel and tourism were used by these regimes to reward and ensure the loyalty of their citizens, whilst improving their nations’ international reputations.

Outside of academia, James enjoys cycling and can often to be found dodging potholes on the back roads of Fife. He plans to ride the North Coast 500 before he finishes his PhD. James used the lockdown to improve his language skills by taking an online Spanish course and also took a deep dive into Russian literature because the last year hadn’t been bleak enough. James has played the guitar since he was young but remains a terrible musician. He is keenly waiting for life to get back to normal so he can resume visiting museums and exhibitions and finally talk about history in person again.

Gender and the Book Trades: 2021 USTC History of the Book Conference

Blog written by Jessica Farrell-Jobst. Jessica recently completed her PhD at the Reformation Studies Institute in the University of St Andrews. Her thesis work, entitled ‘Women as Book Producers: the Case of Nuremberg’ explores early modern women’s participation in the German book trade, focusing on the imperial free city of Nuremberg.

Last month the Universal Short Title Catalogue hosted the 13th annual History of the Book conference, concerning ‘Gender and the Book Trades’. In light of continued concerns regarding global travel, this year’s event was the first virtual USTC conference held through Microsoft Teams. The virtual format presented new benefits as attendance was open to more participants from further afield than ever before. For four days, participants and guests from six continents engaged in discussions on gender constructions, book history and inclusive bibliography. The conference was organised by Elise Watson, Jessica Farrell-Jobst and Nora Epstein, PhD students and USTC student researchers at the University of St Andrews.

The virtual format of the conference also brought changes to the presentation style. This year all speakers pre-circulated their papers, and presentations were centred on discussion between panelist and guests, highlighting thematic relationships and connections between the papers. We had 53 speakers presenting their latest research on diverse geographical and temporal contexts. Furthermore, we were able to offer fascinating lunchtime events each day for our guests, showcasing rare book collections and recent work by the USTC.       

The first day of our conference had four panels looking at book collecting, gendered acquisitions, identity in text, and materiality respectively. Presentations and subsequent conversation centered on how ideas about gender impacted the books men and women collected or purchased, how gendered identities were expressed through text and how the physicality of the book could be understood as a gendered item. Guests were treated to presentations from the constructed personality of Belle da Costa Greene, to the value of books for women in seventeenth century Navarre, to storytelling in nineteenth century Bengal amongst others. Our lunch sessions kicked off with a preview and open discussion on the new Gender Metadata for the USTC, held by Dr Graeme Kemp. The day closed with an entertaining student social, for both undergraduates and postgraduates, hosted by University of St Andrews’ PhD student Jacob Baxter. 

Our second day looked at women’s changing role in the marketplace, the editing and transmission of texts as a gendered act, and the construction of masculinity. Again, the conversation brought rather diverse subjects and contexts together calling out absences in historiography, visibility in archives, and the need to combat gendered assumptions. We heard about street vendors of Colonial Calcutta, women’s wills in early modern England, and ostensible masculinity in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, amongst other fascinating subjects.  For the Lunch time special event, Dr Briony Harding and Rachel Hart presented a virtual showcase of rare books housed in the libraries and museums collections at the University of St Andrews.

Slide showing the ‘Pricking and Pouncing’ technique from Georgianna Ziegler’s (Folger Library) presentation Lace, Letters, and the Calligraphic Manuscripts of Esther Inglis (c. 1570-1624).

The following day likewise hosted a fascinating conversation on family dynamics within the print trades, women’s work, and the clandestine operations of print. Again, similarities between the papers were brought to light, focusing on the importance of inheritance practices and the local laws impacting the book trades in a given region or time. From Germany to Peru to England, themes of interaction with authoritative structures and relationships between genders were prevalent. The lunch event was a student poster session presented by USTC summer volunteers, Sara D’Amico, Zaynah Akeel, and Claire Macleod. Each created a poster communicating their recent research for display at our event, where they hosted discussions and took questions from our guests. The day ended with our virtual social.

The last day of the conference looked at publishing, the use of paratext, and transformative bibliography, where guests were presented with nine fantastic papers covering a wide range of research, from South African publishers to communities of Dutch women to queer zines. Papers examined the intersectional role of race and gender in the publishing industry, text and books as a means of community building, and the historic biases ingrained in bibliography. The following discussions stressed the need for inclusivity and intersectionality in both the study of gender and the book and the development of bibliography. For the final day of the conference our guests engaged with a special presentation by Dr Earle Havens of Johns Hopkins University. Havens gave a visual journey through the ‘Women of the Book’ collection, showcasing some fascinating works by and for women housed in the Johns Hopkins’ Rare book collection.

Between the new virtual format and the presentation organization, this year’s USTC conference was a unique and rewarding experience. Conversations brought people from around the world together despite geographical distance. We are grateful to all our speakers, guests, and participants who joined in the discussion and events, contributing insightful studies and stimulating questions.   

Staff Spotlight: Derek Patrick

Blog written by Dr Derek Patrick. Dr Patrick joined the School of History as an Associate Lecturer in 2018.

Derek joined the School of History in January 2018 although he was already familiar with St Andrews and several of his new colleagues. He had completed his MA at St Andrews back in 1997 and, as a member of the Scottish Parliament Project, a PhD in 2002. His research focussed on the period c.1689-1702 with an emphasis on party politics and the membership of the old Scots parliament during the reign of William and Mary. Before returning to St Andrews, Derek spent 15 years at Dundee where he initially worked with Professor Chris Whatley on his 2006 book, The Scots and the Union.

While he spent most of his time at Dundee as a lecturer in Scottish history, Derek also worked in recruitment with UK-based international students and held a number of administrative posts. In 2017 he left academia for a brief period when he joined the veterans’ charity Poppyscotland, where he was part of a small team tasked with obtaining a large Heritage Lottery Fund grant for a mobile education outreach unit. This became Poppy Bud, an 18-tonne truck that becomes an interactive learning space visiting schools across Scotland with the purpose of exploring a contemporary understanding of remembrance. This was an especially rewarding post, but when Derek became aware of an opportunity to return to his alma mater he did not need any persuasion.

Derek serves as Deputy Director of Teaching and the School’s Academic Support Officer (a position that is unique to History). While he still lectures at sub-honours and contributes to several taught postgraduate courses, his role includes a number of administrative responsibilities. He is responsible for History Honours advising, is the School’s study abroad officer, coordinates our joint degree programme with William and Mary, is examination officer, is responsible for curriculum change, and acts as disabilities and wellbeing officer (with one or two additional School and University roles for added measure). He is based in St Katharine’s Lodge and is always contactable at

Derek enjoys the variety of the role which offers ample opportunities for research and public engagement. In recent years this has been more focussed on the Great War than the Convention Parliament, although in terms of First World War history he would consider himself very much an enthusiastic amateur. Since a high school visit to the battlefields he has had a longstanding interest in the War and a passion for the history of our local regiment, The Black Watch. He is co-founder of the Great War Dundee Commemorative Project, was a historical consultant for the BBC’s World War One at Home initiative, and has written a number of articles on the war which have appeared in various places, including Tayside at War (Dundee, 2018), co-edited with friend and former colleague, Dr Billy Kenefick.

His most recent work, The Black Watch in the Great War: Rediscovered Histories from the Regimental Family (Tippermuir Books, Perth, 2020), was published in December last year. This is a 400-page collection, written in conjunction with The Black Watch Association, which includes contributions by a number of veterans and their immediate families. This project was a unique opportunity for the wider regimental family to make a lasting contribution to the regiment’s history and heritage.

Outside academia, Derek has a number of interests and hobbies which he pursues with varying levels of enthusiasm. However, the one constant is football. He is a director of his local club, Lochgelly Albert F.C. (a name he’s sure you are not familiar with), who compete in the first division (Conference B) of the East of Scotland League. During the season, Derek can usually be found traversing the country, camera in hand, optimistically following the fortunes of the team.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Áron Kecskés

Blog written by third-year PhD candidate Áron Kecskés. Áron’s research focuses on Norman lordships in early twelfth-century Southern Italy. You can follow him on Twitter @aron.kecskes.

Áron’s research, supervised by Dr Justine Firnhaber-Baker and Professor Frances Andrews, looks at how the society of the eastern Campania deployed organic and localised responses to great political and societal turmoil in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries. The eastern part of Campania, a part of southern Italy, underwent enormous changes over the course of the eleventh century. Notably, the Lombard Principality of Benevento, which formerly ruled the whole territory, was replaced by a set of lordships ruled by an immigrant Norman aristocracy. These lordships form the principal subject of Áron’s thesis. Otto Brunner defined lordship as a conceptual category encompassing economic, social, and political aspects linked to both land and the household of the lord. An entirely alien phenomenon to our post-Enlightenment separation of economic, judicial, and military affairs, lordship was a principal ordering force of medieval politics and society. This does not mean that lordship was present in all medieval societies or that it was equally important in each. Áron’s thesis looks at a period when lordship became one of the central ordering principles in southern Italian society and politics, seeking to explore the reasons for this and the forms this process took. In particular, the thesis focuses on the documents lords produced (seigneurial diplomatic), the place of lordship in local society, and interactions between lords and seigneuries in extra-local contexts.

A stranger in foreign parts like the Norman lords he studies, Áron has lived in the UK for almost a decade now. His long-held fascination with medieval history turned into academic interest during an undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow. While the intellectual history of the War of the Three Kingdoms almost seduced him, in the end he stayed loyal to his chosen period and came to St Andrews for an MLitt In Medieval History. This led naturally to his current PhD at SAIMS. Over the course of the last decade or so, Áron has worked in warehouses and shops, on petrol stations and assembly lines, rode bicycles and driven forklift trucks, and baked bread and assembled bouquets of flowers for a living. This has been just as much a formative experience as university education, instilling a deep interest in the systems and structures that order society.

Áron has been accused of being ‘overly invested’ in the Beastie Boys and of ‘quoting too much from their songs’ by his office-mates. This is actually an oversimplification: music, especially new wave, punk, and early hip-hop, plays a huge role in Áron’s life. His chief artistic interest, however, lies in literature, especially nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels. He considers Bolaño’s 2666 to be the best novel he’s read in the last few years. Áron is also an enthusiastic kickboxer. Originally introduced to Muay Thai by the Glasgow Uni MT Club, he has taken every opportunity to train ever since. Lockdown finally let him fully embrace the dark side, permitting him to grow a man-bun, put up a heavy punchbag in his living room, and ride a red fixie everywhere.

Áron is very much looking forward to returning to Italy to continue his research, but until then he is always keen on meeting people interested in chatting about Normans, music or literature, kickboxing, or cycling.

David Brewster and the culture of science in post-Enlightenment Scotland

Blog written by Dr Bill Jenkins. Dr Jenkins is a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of History, working on the Leverhulme-funded project ‘After the Enlightenment: Scottish Intellectual Life, 1790-1843’. He is the author of Evolution before Darwin: Theories of the Transmutation of Species in Edinburgh, 1804–1834, published by Edinburgh University Press in 2019. If you want to learn more, you can follow him on Twitter (@BillHWJenkins) or view his personal website.

Dr Bill Jenkins

I first made the acquaintance of David Brewster (1781–1868) when I was working on my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. Today, Brewster is best known as the inventor of the kaleidoscope and for his work in optics, but he was also an important author and editor of scientific books and journals. It was in the latter capacity that I first encountered him while working on my doctoral research on pre-Darwinian theories of evolution in the Edinburgh of the 1820s and 1830s. The central figure in my thesis was Robert Jameson, Edinburgh’s professor of natural history. Jameson had co-edited a journal entitled the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal with Brewster between 1819 and 1824. Both men were big personalities with a habit of making enemies, so it wasn’t long before they had made enemies of each other. After parting company, Brewster went off to found his own Edinburgh Journal of Science, while Jameson stayed at the helm of the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. I was intrigued enough by Brewster to read a number of the popular books he wrote on scientific subjects, which are notable for their lively literary style and dramatic leaps of the imagination. I was immediately hooked.

Image: Chalk drawing of David Brewster by William Bewick, 1824 (Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Given my existing interest in Brewster, I was delighted to learn in Spring 2018 that the School of History at St Andrews was looking for a postdoc to work on Brewster and Scottish natural philosophy for  a project entitled ‘After the Enlightenment: Scottish Intellectual Life, 1790-1843’. I was fortunate to be the successful candidate, and soon found myself working alongside fellow postdocs Felicity Loughlin and Lina Weber. We are also lucky enough have an eminent group of senior academics in the form of Professors Aileen Fyfe, Knud Haakonssen, Colin Kidd and Richard Whatmore on the project team.

Brewster was a multi-faceted character, and I’ve chosen six aspects of his life and work to focus on for the monograph I’m writing for the project. This will explore not only his own career, but through him will shed light on post-Enlightenment science in Scotland more generally. These six topics fall into two broad sections. The first section focuses on the contexts and institutions within which Brewster operated and which he helped shape. Firstly, Brewster has a great deal to tell us about the immediate contexts for scientific practice in early nineteenth century Scotland. This includes scientific networks and the exchange of ideas, instruments, and specimens. Secondly, he was a prolific writer and editor of scientific books and journals. This makes him the perfect vehicle for studying the communication of science. Thirdly, Brewster was deeply involved with a number of key Scottish and British scientific societies: he was secretary, vice-president, and finally president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a founder of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and the first director of the Society of Arts for Scotland, to name just three of his roles.

Image: Title page of Brewster’s Letters on Natural Magic (1832), one of his popular science books, in which he gave scientific explanations for optical illusions and other magic tricks

The second section of my study looks at natural philosophy in the light of the political, religious, and intellectual cultures of Scotland. The fourth topic deals with Brewster’s involvement with the political life of the country. Brewster was a life-long reform Whig, who relied to a considerable extent on the patronage of fellow Whigs, and in particular the influential politician Henry Brougham, who shared Brewster’s scientific interests. The period between the French Revolution and the First Reform Bill was a particularly turbulent era in the political life of Scotland, and Brewster’s career was deeply marked by the times in which he lived.  Fifthly, like many men of science of his time, Brewster was deeply religious. He was a passionate champion of the Evangelical Party of the Church of Scotland and, like most members of that Party, left the established church to join the Free Church at the Disruption of 1843. The compatibility of the book of nature with the book of revelation was an abiding concern for Brewster and often shaped his scientific views in surprising ways. Sixthly and finally, Brewster wrote a great deal regarding the history and philosophy of science. He was a fervent champion of the power of the scientific imagination, which he saw as closely akin to ‘poetic fancy’.

The overarching question which runs throughout my work is: Can a distinct Scottish style of science be discerned in the decades following the Scottish Enlightenment? My answer to this is a clear ‘yes’. This scientific style emerged from two principal sources. Firstly, the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment had taken a deep interest in scientific methodology and the type of questions it was reasonable for natural philosophers to ask. Their views profoundly shaped the thought and practice of generations of Scottish men of science into the middle of the nineteenth century and beyond. Secondly, the Presbyterian worldview influenced even those natural philosophers who rejected some of its harsher Calvinist doctrines. They were unlikely to share the optimistic worldview of many earlier Anglican natural theologians, who had seen God’s goodness reflected in every sunbeam and blade of grass. Instead, the Scots were haunted by a darker vision of a fallen universe declining towards final dissolution that was to have a profound influence on physics and cosmology to this day.