Bringing Medieval Scottish History to a Wider Audience

Being an academic historian isn’t all about looking to the past: to disseminate their work well historians must constantly adapt to different types of media and ways of transmitting information. Professor Michael Brown writes about his experience working together with fellow St Andrews historians on putting together podcasts about medieval Scottish history. 

It's not all about this fellow; Robert the Bruce, photo taken by Graeme Bird. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s not all about this fellow; Robert the Bruce, photo taken by Graeme Bird. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Over the summer, the Historical Association added a series of podcasts on topics relating to the history of Medieval Scotland to its existing podcast series.  These can be accessed via the Historical Association website, should you wish, to hear myself and my St Andrews colleagues, Katie Stevenson and Alex Woolf, discussing a range of subjects concerning the history of medieval Scotland in handy, bite-sized pieces.  The specific subjects include the formation of the Scottish kingdom and church, the Wars of Independence and late Medieval Scotland in its European context.  The intended audience for these pieces is provided by school students studying for Higher or A-Level history.

Why did we do this?  Apart from the fact that we were asked nicely, the answer relates to the relationship between academic historians and the wider audience of students and public.  We are constantly told that there is no equivalent of the continental ‘public intellectual’ in British society.  This may be true, but historians are generally aware of the need to draw links between their academic research and both the potential future generation of historians and that strange beast, the ‘interested public’.  This is an attitude which predates, and will survive, current preoccupations with measurable impact.  The Historical Association has long been a reflection of this interaction, whose focus is on the promotion of the subject at all levels.  If, like Katie, Alex and I, you work in a field which, by dint of being Medieval and Scottish, tends to be more restricted in terms of its audience, the missionary aim of providing access to new audiences is even more tempting.  All three of us have participated in other activities aimed at extending interest in, or supporting the teaching of, Medieval Scottish history beyond the university, but these podcasts have a particular value in spreading the word beyond its normal geographical limits.  The podcasts are aimed at an audience of U.K. students but the beauty of web-based materials lies in their ability to reach unexpected and unlimited recipients.

That said, it is also frustrating that, from the range of subjects and themes which might be raised to widen interest in Medieval Scotland, things do tend to get funnelled down to the same few issues: Bannockburn and the Declaration of Arbroath anyone?  It would be nice if efforts to extend interest in Scottish history as a whole could stretch beyond the Wallace and Bruce, Mary and Knox, Jacobites and Enlightenment, empire and nationalism.  However, as with Richard III and his car park, you need to use the means at your disposal to open the gates to, what every historian knows, is the most fascinating area of the subject, the one they are researching.

You can find the full list of podcasts  on Scottish medieval history here.

About standrewshistory
With over forty full time 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 S cotland to Byzantium and the Americas to the Middle East and South Asia.Thematic interests include religious history, urban history, transnationalism, historiography and nationalism. The School of History prides itself on small group teaching and tutorials 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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