Postgraduate Spotlight: Róisín Watson

Roisin Watson 1Róisín was born in the shadow of the Arsenal stadium in north London. Her first act of rebellion was her refusal, aged five, to visit the third church of the day whilst on holiday with her family. She quickly learnt her lesson.  Frequent visits to Edward I castles in north Wales and Romanesque churches in France as a child had an unconscious impact on her future trajectory.

She studied for her undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Oxford. As an undergraduate, she became interested in the Near East in the age of Justinian and Muhammad, as well as Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 70s.  Her undergraduate dissertation on the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, however, cemented her curiosity about the relationship between religion and gender.  In her M.St. degree, supervised by Lyndal Roper, she examined the literary dedications of Nuremberg humanists to the Abbess Caritas Pirckheimer (d. 1532), which throw light on how male humanists constructed female identity in the first decades of the sixteenth century and how the Reformation altered the function of the abbess within these intellectual circles.  Following her M.St., Róisín spent a year at the Stiftung Maximilianeum in Munich, studying early modern German history at the Ludwig Maximilian Universität.

Page from a parish donation catalogue.

Page from a parish donation catalogue.

Róisín started at St Andrews in 2011, working under the supervision of Bridget Heal.  Her doctoral research is on the development of Lutheran visual and material culture in Württemberg churches from 1534 to c. 1700. This is a region traditionally overlooked in the literature due to the assumption that iconoclasm in the sixteenth century established an environment hostile towards church art.  However, this was not the case.  Róisín explores the relationships between church decoration, space, ritual, and individual piety in Württemberg through a variety of printed and archival sources, such as church consecration sermons, church ordinances and donation records. The study builds on the sole iconographical analysis of Lutheran art in the duchy by Reinhard Lieske (1973) by analysing the ways in which images and objects were experienced in local churches.  Of particular interest are the broader themes of church patronage after the Reformation and the impact of Luther’s message of salvation by grace alone on patterns of religious giving.  Her doctoral work incorporates her interest in gender and piety in the analysis of image cycles commissioned by Princess Antonia von Württemberg (d. 1679) and Duchess Magdalena Sibylla von Hessen-Darmstadt (d. 1712)

The research is based on ten months study in the Hauptstaatsarchiv and Landeskirchliches Archiv in Stuttgart funded by the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst.  She also visited a series of local church archives and made a survey of over 70 churches.  Róisín has presented her work, both in English and German, at a number of conferences, including the Renaissance Society of America’s annual conference, the Kolloquium Frühe Neuzeit at Tübingen University, and the German History Society annual conference.

An epitaph in the Stiftskirche in Urach.

An epitaph in the Stiftskirche in Urach.

In addition to her PhD research, Róisín co-ordinates the early modern German salon that meets fortnightly in the Reformation Institute and was a tutor for M01007: The Early Modern Western World.  Outside St Andrews, she has worked on a number of curatorial projects, among them the Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum in 2012, and the display of medieval manuscript cuttings in the Wallace Collection. She is currently involved in a small project presenting objects with supposedly magical properties in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.  When not working, Róisín enjoys running and has completed several half-marathons.  Since the age of 6, she has been playing Irish music on the tin whistle and flute, and takes her instruments with her on research trips to play in local sessions. She can be found most Tuesday evenings at the Whey Pat’s folk session, and, in keeping with her chosen historical period, is a member of the St Andrews Renaissance Singers.

About standrewshistory
With over forty fulltime members of staff researching and teaching on European, American and Asian history from the dawn of the Middle Ages to the present day, the School of History at the University of St Andrews has one of the finest faculty and diverse teaching programmes of any School of History in the English speaking world. The School boasts expertise in Mediaeval and Modern History, from Scotland to Byzantium and the Americas to South Asia. Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching, allowing for in-depth study and supervision tailored to secure the best from each student. Cutting edge research combined with teaching excellence offer a dynamic and intellectually stimulating environment for the study of History.

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